06/23/2012, 00.00
SYRIA - TURKEY

Ankara acknowledges one of its planes may have strayed into Syrian airspace

Turkish President Abdullah Gül eases tensions after Damascus says it shot down a Turkish Phantom F4 fighter. The two-man crew is still missing. The country would "take the necessary steps" once all the facts were known, PM Erdogan says. Damascus and Ankara have open channels to solve the crisis.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - Turkey's President, Abdullah Gül, said a Turkish fighter might have violated Syrian airspace. The acknowledgement might ease tensions after yesterday's incident. Overnight, Syria said it shot down the Turkish Phantom F4 "according to the laws that govern such situations". The Turkish and Syrian navies are now searching for the two crew members.

The Turkish military said it lost radio contact with the F-4 at 11:58 (08:58 GMT) while it was flying over Hatay, about 90 minutes after it took off from Erhac airbase in the province of Malatya.

A Syrian military statement said that an "unidentified air target" had penetrated Syrian airspace at 11:40 local time (08:40 GMT), travelling at very low altitude and at high speed.

It said that in line with the laws prevailing in such cases, Syrian air defences engaged the craft, and scored a direct hit about 1 km (0.6 miles) from its coastline.

After it "became clear the target was a Turkish military plane which had entered our airspace", the naval commands of the two countries were in touch, and a joint operation was going on to find the missing crew members.

Despite initial tensions, Turkey has taken a cautious approach to the incident. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the country would "take the necessary steps" once all the facts were known.

A representative for the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, said he urged the parties to go "through diplomatic channels" to solve this "serious incident."

"These are not ill-intentioned things but happen beyond [anyone's] control due to the jets' speed," President Gül said. An investigation would determine where the plane was actually shot down, he added.

Gül said that Ankara has open channels with Damascus, even though both countries scaled down diplomatic relations at the start of the year.

"We withdrew our envoy from Syria for security reasons. This does not mean that we have no contacts," he explained.

Relations between NATO-member Turkey and Syria, once close allies, have deteriorated sharply since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

Since then, tens of thousands of Syrian refugees have fled the violence across the border into Turkey.

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