x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 September 2017

Turkey: Military cargo on Syrian jet

Turkey's prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday said cargo seized by Turkish authorities late on Wednesday was destined for the Syrian military.

BEIRUT // The Turkish prime minister said yesterday a plane intercepted on its way from Moscow was carrying military equipment and ammunition to Syria.

The incident increased already heightened tensions between Turkey and its neighbour after cross-border shelling and gunfire from northern Syria.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday said cargo seized by Turkish authorities late on Wednesday was destined for the Syrian military.

Mr Erdogan said Turkey was still examining the equipment and "the necessary will follow".

Syria has denied that the Syrian Air Airbus A320 flying to Damascus was carrying an illicit cargo, and described the Turkish interception as an act of piracy.

Russia earlier demanded an explanation for Turkey's actions, saying they endangered the lives of the Russian passengers on the flight, which was intercepted by military jets over Turkish airspace and forced to land.

"We are concerned this emergency situation put at risk the lives and safety of passengers who included 17 Russian citizens," the foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.

The plane was allowed to continue after several hours in Ankara and after cargo was seized. It was carrying about 30 passengers.

Mahmoud Said, Syria's transport minister, was quoted by Lebanon's Al Manar TV station as saying that forcing the plane to land amounted to "air piracy which contradicts civil aviation treaties".

Ghaidaa Abdul Latif, the general manager of the Syrian Civil Aviation Agency, said the use of military jets to force the plane to land was "contrary to regulations and aviation norms".

"This action is contrary to the rules, because the pilot should be first asked to land for inspection," Ms Abdul Latif said. "If he refuses, military jets would then fly to force him to land."

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's minister of foreign affairs, 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.

"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 passenger planes have been instructed not to enter Syrian airspace, which authorities deem unsafe.

Turkish forces have increased their presence along the 900-kilometre border with Syria. They have fired back and warned of a harsher response should the attacks continue.

Meanwhile, the joint UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, has returned to the region, travelling to Saudi Arabia as part of his efforts to broker an initiative to end the crisis in Syria.

Mr Brahimi was last in the region in mid-September. He is expected to return to Damascus for talks as soon as next week.

The fighting inside Syria continued yesterday, with the opposition Local Coordination Committees reporting at least 133 people killed in violence across the country including areas in and around Damascus, Idlib, Deraa, Homs and Aleppo.

A powerful blast rocked the military justice building in Damascus last night, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.State television said "a bomb exploded near the ministry of higher education" and that two people were wounded in the "terrorist attack".

Opposition activists said yesterday that Syrian rebels attacked the Wadi Al Deif army base in the north of the country, using at least one tank, rocket-propelled grenades and mortar bombs.

And Syrian state television reported that an "armed terrorist group" killed eight people in an assault on a bus carrying Syrian workers close to the border with Lebanon yesterday.

 

zconstantine@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Associated Press