Syrian jet 'carrying arms'
Published 12/10/2012 | 05:00
The Syrian passenger plane forced down by Turkish fighter jets was carrying Russian military equipment to Bashar al-Assad's regime, Turkey's prime minister has alleged.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a fierce defence of Ankara's decision to intercept the plane as it flew over Turkey from Moscow as the diplomatic dispute between the three countries escalated.
He said equipment seized from the aircraft was being examined, but it included ammunition and military goods. According to the Turkish media, this included communications devices and missile parts.
Mr Erdogan said: "The Russian arms exporting agency was the sender and the receiver was the Syrian Defence Ministry. The material has been confiscated and is being examined. Carrying such materials through our airspace is against international rules."
The Syrian Arab Airlines flight was forced down at Ankara airport by Turkish air force F16 fighter jets. The 35 passengers on board, who included 17 Russians, complained to Russian media.
"Four people on board have been beaten up, two crew and two passengers, as they tried to force them to sign documents," a stewardess told Russian television.
Syria accused Turkey of "air piracy" and insisted that all the equipment on board the plane was for civilian use.
Russia insists there were no arms on board, in line with statements by President Vladimir Putin that the country does not export weapons to Syria that could be used for internal purposes.
Moscow also complained that the way in which the plane was forced down was unsafe and that passengers were given no access to consular staff.
"The Russian side is insisting on an explanation of the reasons for such actions," a Foreign Ministry statement said. "The lives and safety of the passengers were placed under threat."
Mr Erdogan has put pressure on the Syrian regime in any way he can, short of war. In the past week, he has continued to authorise artillery attacks on Syrian territory . (© Daily Telegraph, London)