Turkey’s interception of Syrian bound plane reignites tensions
A Syrian-bound plane carrying 37 passengers from Moscow was intercepted by Turkey and forced to land in Ankara after intelligence received a tip-off suspecting it of carrying weapons destined for Syria.
The Airbus A-320, a Syrian passenger plane travelling from Moscow to Damascus, was escorted by F-16 Military jets before being grounded at Esenboğa Airport in Ankara, Turkey’s capital city, in an action that has prompted a Russian demand for answers. The airliner was allowed to continue to Damascus after several hours, but without its cargo.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said the plane had been given a chance to turn back towards Russia while over the Black Sea, but the pilot had chosen not to.
Following a Syrian denial, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the Syrian commercial airliner was carrying Russian-made equipment and ammunition destined for Syria’s defense ministry.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said the cargo contained “elements which are contrary to civilian aviation rules”.
“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”, Davutoğlu added.
Turkey issued a diplomatic note to Syria that a passenger plane of Syrian Airlines had violated rules of civil aviation by carrying military equipment. According to Turkish authorities, the plane was carrying 12 large parcels containing military communication devices. Turkish Yeni Safak newspaper reported there were ten containers aboard the plane, whose contents included radio receivers, antennas and equipment “thought to be missile parts”. Turkish state-run television TRT also reported the plane was carrying military communications equipment.
However, Damascus said the plane was carrying legitimate cargo and described Turkey’s actions as an act of “air piracy”. “This hostile and deplorable Turkish act is an additional indication of the hostile policy of Erdoğan’s government”, Syria’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said that Moscow was concerned that the lives of the 35 passengers, including 17 Russian citizens, had been endangered.
The Russian Ambassador in Ankara, Vladimir Ivanovsky, was summoned to meet with Turkish diplomats at the Foreign Ministry. A Turkish statement rejected claims that passengers were ill-treated, saying that they were allowed to leave the plane if they wanted to and that there was medical crew and ambulances on standby.
Passengers said they were forced to sign “fake papers” indicating that the aircraft had made an emergency landing, according to Turkish Hürriyet Daily news.
“Four people in the plane were beaten up [and] forced to sign the papers. Two of them were crew and the other two were passengers. We don’t know what the papers were about”, said Shirin Azis, a hostess on the plane, to Russian TV channel RT.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions between Russian-backed Syria and Turkey, who have exchanged border fire since last Wednesday.