Turkey intercepts Syrian plane as tensions mount
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish jets on Wednesday forced a Syrian passenger plane to land at Ankara airport on suspicion that it might be carrying weapons or other military equipment, amid heightened tensions between Turkey and Syria that have sparked fears of a wider regional conflict.
Meanwhile, the United States sent troops to Jordan to bolster its military capabilities in the event Syria’s civil war escalates.
The Syrian Air jetliner was traveling from Moscow when it was intercepted by F16 jets as it entered Turkish airspace and was escorted to the capital’s Esenboga Airport, the state-run TRT television reported.
Hours later, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Airbus A320 with 37 passengers and crew would be allowed to leave, but its cargo had been confiscated.
“There are elements ... that are not legitimate in civilian flights,” the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Davutoglu as saying. He did not provide details but said authorities continued to examine the cargo.
Davutoglu earlier told Turkey’s TGRT television that the plane was intercepted on suspicion it was carrying illicit cargo to Damascus.
“If equipment is being carried under the guise of civilian flights or if they are not being declared, then of course we’ll inspect it,” he said.
“We are determined to stop the flow of weapons to a regime that carries out such ruthless massacres,” Davutoglu added. “We cannot accept that our air space be used for such aims.”
Syrian Information Minister Omran Zuabi declined comment.
Davutoglu said Turkish authorities had also declared Syria’s airspace to be unsafe and were stopping Turkish aircraft from flying over the civil war-torn country.
The move comes as tensions between Turkey and Syria are running high. The countries, which were once close allies, have been exchanging artillery fire across the volatile border for days.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Americanconcerns about the conflict spilling over allies’ borders and about the security of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal prompted the troop move.
About 150 U.S. troops, largely Army special operations forces, are working out of a military center near Amman, two senior defense officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the mission. The troops have moved back and forth to the Syrian border as part of their work, which is joint planning and intelligence gathering, one official said.