x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Assad regrets Syrian downing of Turkish plane

Syria's President Bashar Al Assad said today he regretted that his country's defence forces shot down a Turkish fighter jet, but still insisted the plane was in Syrian airspace.

ANKARA // Syria's President Bashar Al Assad said today he regretted that his country's defence forces shot down a Turkish fighter jet on June 22, but still insisted the plane was in Syrian airspace.

"The plane was flying in an air corridor used three times in the past by the Israeli airforce," he said in an interview with a Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet.

He added that he regretted the incident -- which has further fuelled tensions between the two former allies -- "100 percent".

President Assad rejected Turkey's accusations that the Syrian defence forces intentionally shot down the Turkish F-4 jet, which was on a training mission over the Mediterranean.

"A country at war always acts like this, this plane was flying at a very low altitude and was shot down by anti-aircraft defences which mistook it for an Israeli plane, which attacked Syria in 2007."

He said the soldier who shot down the plane had no radar and could not know to which country the plane belonged.

President Assad sent his condolences to the families of the two pilots of the downed plane, who have not been found.

"If this plane had been shot down in international airspace (as maintained by Ankara) we would not have hesitated to apologise," he said.

The Syrian leader expressed the desire to turn the page on the incident with Turkey which saw the lost of its fighter jet as a hostile act and decided to fortify its border with Syria.

"We do not want to even consider that this plane was sent deliberately into our airspace," President Assad said.

"We want to think of it as a pilot's error and we would consider this an isolated incident, which shouldn't be exaggerated ... We have nothing to gain in attacking a Turkish fighter jet."

Mr Assad also said Syria had no plans to send troops to the border with Turkey after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan sent reinforcements of his troops to the frontier.

"Despite whatever the Erdogan government does, we will not proceed with a concentration of troops at the border. The Turkish people are friends and understand us," he said.

More than 16,500 people have been killed in violence since the uprising against Assad's rule broke out in March last year, according to human rights groups.

The Cumburiyet daily said it would publish tomorrow the second part of its interview with Assad in Damascus.