Ankara insists intercepted Syrian plane carried 'war equipment'

AFP , Monday 15 Oct 2012

Over Russian objections, Turkish PM insists that cargo confiscated from intercepted Syrian plane en route from Moscow to Damascus contained military hardware

Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a forum in Istanbul, Turkey, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012 (Photo: AP)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated Monday that the cargo Ankara confiscated from an intercepted Syrian plane contained weapons, shrugging off Russian claims that the plane carried legal radar equipment.

"It is beyond any doubt that the cargo is war equipment," Erdogan told reporters in Ankara.

The Syrian Air passenger plane en route from Moscow to Damascus was forced by Turkish jets to land in Ankara last Wednesday, reportedly upon intelligence that the civilian plane carried military cargo.

After grounding the plane for nine hours, Ankara announced it seized "objectionable" cargo aboard the plane, triggering a furious reaction from Damascus and its main ally, Moscow.

"There is no point in diverting and saying it is radar equipment," said Erdogan, in an apparent reference to Russia's claims that the plane carried dual-purpose radar equipment which it said was not banned by international conventions.

"Radar equipment functions as war equipment anyway," he added.

Damascus denied the aircraft had any illegal load, challenging Ankara to display the cargo it seized and asking for the return of the confiscated goods.

The premier also clarified that he ordered authorities to close Turkish airspace to Syrian flights "immediately after" Wednesday's interception.

"I also gave my orders to Turkish Airlines not to use Syrian airspace for civil aviation, and asked them to notify others," Erdogan said.

In return, Syria announced it was banning Turkish planes from its airspace, effective from Saturday midnight, "in accordance with the principle of reciprocity," according to SANA state news agency.

Turkey's ban on Syrian flights was first publicised by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Sunday, who said the ban went into effect a day before.

Last Thursday, Erdogan said the cargo was military equipment being shipped from a Russian producer to the Syrian Defence Ministry, in breach of rules of civil aviation.

Ankara has taken an increasingly strident line towards its southern neighbour since a shell fired from the Syrian side of the border killed five Turks on October 3.

It has since repeatedly retaliated for cross-border fire, prompting growing UN concern and a flurry of diplomatic contacts.

Earlier on Monday, Ankara ordered an Armenian humanitarian aid plane headed for Syria's Aleppo to land for routine security checks. The plane resumed its journey through Turkish airspace later Monday after it got Ankara's clearance.

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