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Turkey says downed jet may have violated Syrian airspace


ANKARA, June 23 (AFP) Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul said Saturday the jet fighter shot down by Syria might have violated Syrian airspace.
“It is routine for jet fighters to sometimes fly in and out over (national) borders … when you consider their speed over the sea,” Gul told Anatolia news agency. “These are not ill-intentioned things but happen beyond control due to the jets’ speed.”The president also said contacts were under way with Syria though Turkey withdrew its diplomats from its embassy in Damascus in March, and expelled the Syrian diplomats from the Ankara embassy after the escalating violence.

A Turkish Air Force F-4 war plane fires during a military exercise (REUTERS)

“We withdrew our envoy from Syria for security reasons. This does not mean that we have no contacts (with Damascus),” Gul also said.�The military plane vanished off radar screens around 0900 GMT Friday after it took off from an airbase in Malatya city in Turkey’s southeast.

Syria confirmed it had downed the plane and Turkey’s government said Ankara would take all necessary steps once it had established the facts.Syria’s official news agency confirmed that Damascus had downed the jet in a report earlier Saturday.”An unidentified aerial target violated Syrian airspace, coming from the west at a very low altitude and at high speed over territorial waters” in the eastern Mediterranean, a military spokesman told SANA.

Anti-aircraft batteries had opened fire, hitting the plane as it was one kilometre away from land and it had crashed about 10 kilometres (six miles) off the coast of Latakia province, in Syrian territorial waters, he added.They had subsequently established that it had been a Turkish fighter and the two countries’ navies were now cooperating in an operation to find the two missing pilots, SANA reported.
A little earlier, Erdogan confirmed in a written statement that Syria had shot down a Turkish fighter jet reported missing over the eastern Mediterranean Friday.

The statement was issued after he held an emergency meeting with military and intelligence chiefs and key ministers.
“Turkey will announce its final position and take necessary steps with determination after the incident is entirely clarified,” Erdogan added.
A spokesman for the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was following the situation closely.

“He hopes this serious incident can be handled with restraint by both sides through diplomatic channels,” said Martin Nesirky.But this latest incident will further test relations between the two neighbours, already strained over Erdogan’s outspoken condemnation of Syria’s bloody crackdown on anti-government protests.

An earlier Turkish army statement said the jet had lost radio contact with its base over the eastern Mediterranean near Syria’s Latakia.

The military plane vanished off radar screens around 0900 GMT after it took off from an airbase in Malatya city in Turkey’s southeast.

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