Are Syria and Turkey Close to War?

Neighbours thought to be sliding towards war after Turkey intercepts plane carrying ‘illegal cargo’

There are fears that Syria and Turkey are sliding towards all-out war after Syria accused Ankara of “air piracy” for sending F-16 fighter jets to force a Syrian passenger plane, en route from Moscow to Damascus, to land and then confiscating part of its cargo. For its part, Russia has demanded an explanation.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said “illegal cargo” had been found on the plane, which made its unscheduled landing at Ankara’s Esenboga airport at 5.30pm local time yesterday. Turkish news channels claimed 12 large parcels containing military communications equipment were found on the plane.

As Channel 4 News report, the flight was allowed to continue its journey after being held for eight hours.

Davutoglu 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.”

Russia has slammed Turkish authorities for endangering the lives of the air passengers and wants to know why Russian diplomatic staff were refused access to the 17 Russian citizens on board the plane.

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich told Russia Today: “We are troubled that the lives of the passengers aboard the plane, including 17 Russian citizens were put at risk by this inappropriate act. Turkey did not inform Russia that Russian citizens were among those detained on the plane. We found this out through the press.”

And the Russians deny the “illegal cargo” accusation. A Russian military industry source told Interfax news agency: “There were no arms and military equipment aboard the civilian aircraft – and could not be.”

But it is the worsening relationship between Syria and Turkey that is causing the most concern. The forcing down of the plane comes against the background of daily artillery bombardments across the Turkey-Syria border and rumours that the Turkish military are being placed on heightened alert.

Jonathan Marcus of the BBC says it all “adds up to a worsening of the escalating crisis” between Ankara and Damascus.

“Turkey, of course, is acting to enforce the arms embargo it imposed against Syria. In the past, Turkish officials have searched the holds of merchant ships and seized items from an Iranian cargo plane. But it is the context here that is different. The crisis between Turkey and Syria is deepening. Any miscalculation by either side could have serious consequences.”

David Blair of The Daily Telegraph appears to agree, writing: “Turkey and Syria are close to war”. Blair is in southern Turkey, near the frontier with Syria, and he says it “feels like the new front line of the battle against Bashar al-Assad’s regime”.

If there is a repeat of last week’s accidental killing of a Turkish family by a stray Syrian mortar shell, he says, “I would not be surprised if Turkey retaliated with a strike by troops as well as artillery, possibly accompanied with air power”. [theweek.co.uk]

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