Turkey calls on NATO over Syria’s downing of ‘unarmed test jet’

RF-4E, Turkish Air Force (Image from flickr.com by Den Batter)
The Turkish foreign minister says the military jet shot down by the Syrian military on Friday was engaged without warning. Ankara is to discuss the incident with its NATO partners come Tuesday.

­The unarmed jet was testing a domestic radar system and was fired at upon leaving Syrian airspace, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in an interview with TRT TV channel on Sunday.

The minister confirmed that the aircraft did enter Syrian airspace before being engaged by the country’s air defenses, but stressed that it had happened by mistake.

He insisted that the jet was taken down in international airspace after leaving Syrian territory.

The jet’s wreckage was located on Sunday, according to a Turkish TV report. The debris is lying in Syrian territorial waters at a depth of some 1,300 meters, the report said.

Davutoglu further said the attack happened without warning in violation of international law, and that Ankara will take the necessary steps in response. It sent a diplomatic note of protest to Syria over the incident.

Turkey will report on the incident to other NATO members next week, he added.

A meeting to discuss the incident will be convened on Tuesday, a NATO spokesperson said on Sunday.

US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton branded the attacks “brazen and unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague derided the downing as an "outrageous act" and a "deplorable incident that underlines the urgent need to find a solution to the current crisis in Syria." He said Britain is ready to pursue robust action on Syria at the UN Security Council.

The Turkish reconnaissance McDonnell Douglas RF-4E had taken off from Erhac airbase in southeastern Turkey and was shot down on Friday. It was initially identified as an F-4 Phantom fighter jet, of which the RF-4E is a variant.

Damascus insists that it acted in defense of its national sovereignty in shooting down the aircraft, which violated its borders.

Turkey says it knows the coordinates of the wrecked plane, but has not yet reached it.

It is unclear if the two pilots managed to eject themselves before the crash.

Syria and Turkey have been at odds for months, as Syria continues to be embroiled in a 16-month-long civil conflict. Damascus believes Ankara is indirectly supporting the Syrian armed opposition forces by turning a blind eye on their use of refugee camps on Turkish soil to rest and regroup. Turkey on its part has been highly critical of the Syrian government’s crackdown on the opposition.

After a UN-brokered ceasefire failed to lead to peace talks, there is much speculation that NATO may launch a military campaign against Damascus similar to that the alliance waged in Libya. NATO carried out a bombing campaign against the Libyan government in 2011, which tipped the military balance in favor of the rebel forces there and resulted in the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi’s government.

Suspected location of the jet’s underwater crash site
Suspected location of the jet’s underwater crash site