The Syrian transport minister has described the Turkish decision to force a Syrian passenger plane to land as “air piracy”. The plane was travelling from Russia to Damascus.
Russia has demanded an explanation from Turkish authorities after the airliner was intercepted when it entered Turkey’s airspace last night en route from Moscow to Damascus. Turkey said it detained the plane after it received intelligence that it was carrying military supplies.
Around 30 passengers aboard the pane were allowed to continue after parts of the cargo were seized, although officials gave no details of what was confiscated, saying investigations were still underway.
Russia claims that Turkish officials refused to grant Russian diplomatic staff access to 17 Russian citizens on board during the hours the plane was held up. Russian sources have also denied that it was carrying any weapons.
Explaining that “illegal cargo” was found on the plane, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said: “We are determined to control weapons transfers to a regime that carries out such brutal massacres against civilians. It is unacceptable that such a transfer is made using our airspace.
“Today we received information this plane was carrying cargo of a nature that could not possibly be in compliance with the rules of civil aviation.”
Turkish F16 fighter jets intercepted the Syrian Airlines A320 passenger jet as soon as it entered Turkish airspace and escorted it to EsenboÄ?a airport in Ankara where it landed at 5.30pm local time, according to the foreign ministry.
Turkish news reports have claimed that 12 large parcels containing military communications equipment were found onboard.
The aircraft was allowed to leave Ankara at 2330 GMT, nine hours after it was intercepted.
However Mr Davutoglu said that Turkey would continue to investigate Syrian civilian aircraft using its airspace. Authorities in Turkey have also instructed Turkish passneger planes not to fly in Syrian airspace, saying it was no longer safe.
This morning, Russia denied that it had supplied any weapons allegedly carried on the plane.
“Neither weapons nor any kind of systems or parts for military equipment were on board or could have been on board,” a military source told Russian news agency, Interfax.
Syria has so far declined to comment on the events. But the developments threaten to destabilise an already shaky relationship between the two nations, which have come close to war in recent days after a stray mortar shell fired by regime forces killed two women and three children in the town of Akçakale. That led to Turkey shelling Syrian military positions along the border.
Last week, the Turkish parliament authorised cross-border raids for self-defence, and Turkey’s armed forces have boosted their presence along the border.