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Syria rejects Turkey claims on downed jet

From the CNN Wire Staff
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Mon June 25, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Syria fired on a second plane Friday, Turkey says
  • Syria insists the Turkish military jet it shot down was in Syrian airspace
  • NATO will meet Tuesday under an article dealing with security threats to members
  • The wreck is found about 1,300 meters (4,600 feet) underwater

(CNN) -- Syria raised the stakes Monday in a war of words with Turkey over the shooting down of a Turkish military jet by Syria, an incident that threatens to draw in NATO.

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said the plane was shot down Friday in Syrian airspace, disputing Turkey's claim that it was downed over international waters after briefly straying into Syrian airspace by mistake.

"What happened was a violation of Syrian airspace. Even Turkey says Syrian sovereignty was violated. Regardless of whether it was a training mission, a reconnaissance mission, it was a violation," Makdissi said.

He insisted that Syria was the wronged party, not Turkey, and accused Turkey of trying to demonize its Arab neighbor.

"There is a campaign to make a devil out of Syria," he said. "Whenever they fail they resort to other evil measures."

Also Monday, a spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry told CNN that Syria fired Friday on a second Turkish plane that was part of a search-and-rescue mission sent in after the jet was shot down. The plane, which entered Syrian airspace in search of the jet, was not hit, said Selcuk Unal.

"There was no injury, nobody was harmed. But that plane immediately returned to Turkish airspace. And through military diplomatic channels we informed them: 'What's going on?'" the spokesman said.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said Sunday that it considers the shooting to be a hostile act. Turkey delivered the message in a diplomatic note to the Syrian consulate in Istanbul, Unal told CNN.

Turkey also submitted a letter about the incident to the U.N. Security Council. The country made no request for action, but outlined its version of events.

"This attack at the international airspace, causing possible loss of two Turkish pilots, is a hostile act by the Syrian authorities against Turkey's national security. Thus, we strongly condemn it," read the letter, dated Sunday.

It identified the downed plane as a Turkish RF-4 reconnaissance aircraft. It was flying alone, without arms, in international airspace when it was shot down, the letter read.

Western leaders roundly condemned the downing of the jet as they prepared for a NATO meeting on Tuesday on the issue.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday said she had spoken with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu about Friday's incident.

He told her "the Syrian military shot its plane down without warning," Clinton said in a statement. "The United States condemns this brazen and unacceptable act in the strongest possible terms. It is yet another reflection of the Syrian authorities' callous disregard for international norms, human life and peace and security."

Security Clearance: Can Turkey force U.S., NATO to attack Syria?

Turkish search-and-rescue teams found the wreckage of the jet in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday, about 1,300 meters (4,260 feet) underwater, Foreign Ministry spokesman Unal said.

They have not reached the wreck yet, he added. There was no word about survivors of the two-man crew.

Syrian TV: Turkish military jet shot down by Syrian artillery

"We will work with Turkey and other partners to hold the Assad regime accountable," Clinton said of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. "Turkey has been a leader in the international community's effort to address the Syrian regime's violence against its own people."

Turkey's Davutoglu said Sunday that Syria gave no warning before shooting down the jet, which had strayed into its territory.

He accused Syria of spreading "disinformation" about the incident, in an appearance filled with tough talk against Turkey's neighbor.

"They have created the impression that Syria felt like it was an act of aggression and they shot it down. ... From our perspective that's not the case," Davutoglu told reporters.

The plane in the Friday incident was unarmed, not sending hostile signals, and identifiable as Turkish, he said.

"You have to first send a caution, a warning," he said in the first detailed Turkish statement on the international incident. "If the warning doesn't work, you scramble your planes, you send a stronger signal, you force the plane to land. There wasn't enough time to do any of that in the time that our plane was in Syrian airspace."

"We have to question how it is that an unarmed, solo flight got this response from the Syrians," he said.

He said the jet was in international airspace when it was fired upon.

It had strayed into Syrian territory in a "short, unintentional violation," but was notified by the Turkish side that it had crossed the line, and returned to international airspace, Davutoglu said.

Turkey will respond "decisively," but within international law, the foreign minister vowed, saying: "It's a fine line."

Turkey took its case to NATO, a spokeswoman for the alliance confirmed. Turkey, a key member of the group, is expected to make a presentation on the incident in Brussels Tuesday.

It called for the meeting under NATO's Article 4, which deals with what happens when the "territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened."

British Foreign Minister William Hague on Sunday called the incident "outrageous" and said he condemned it wholeheartedly."

"The Assad regime should not make the mistake of believing that it can act with impunity. It will be held to account for its behavior," Hague said.

The plane was participating in a test of Turkey's national radar system, Davutoglu said.

The incident could spark an international crisis. Relations between the two neighbors have already deteriorated amid the bloody uprising against al-Assad's regime.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan has repeatedly called on al-Assad to step down, and Turkey has withdrawn its diplomats from Damascus.

Davutoglu pointedly said Sunday that Turkey stands with "the Syrian people."

"This tension is not between Turkey and the Syrian people. There is a regime in Syria which oppresses its people," he said.

However, Turkish President Abdullah Gul suggested the two countries are still liaising despite their differences.

"We pulled out representatives from Syria because it was not safe. This does not mean we are not in contact with them (the Syrians)," he said Saturday, according to the Anatolia news agency.

More than 30,000 Syrian refugees have spilled onto Turkish soil, and Turkey is hosting a number of Syrian opposition groups.

CNN's Ivan Watson and journalist Gül Tüysüz contributed to this report.

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