| 4.8°C Dublin

Turkey accuses Syria of shooting at second aircraft

Turkey accused Syria of opening fire on one of its military aircraft for the second time in four days yesterday, escalating an already dangerous confrontation between the two countries.

A Turkish Air Force search and rescue plane was shot at by Syrian air defences as it swept the skies over the Mediterranean looking for the wreckage of a F-4 Phantom fighter-jet shot down in the same area on Friday, Turkey's deputy prime minister said.

Syria ceased fire after a warning from the Turkish military and the plane was not hit, Bulent Arinc said.

On the first jet, Mr Arinc said that Syria intentionally shot down their jet in international airspace with a "heat-seeking guided laser missile", adding that it was a "hostile act of the highest order."

The incident came as the EU urged Turkey to show restraint as it ruled out support for any military retaliation. Meeting on the eve of an emergency session of Nato, summoned at Turkey's behest, EU foreign ministers condemned Syria's actions as "unacceptable" but attempted to defuse the potential for confrontation.

Guido Westerwelle, the German foreign minister, called for a political solution to the crisis, while his Dutch counterpart, Uri Rosenthal, added: "We don't go for any interventions."

Turkey has threatened a robust response and its strong language was echoed by Britain and the US.


But the more placatory tone that emerged from the EU meeting in Luxembourg suggested that Nato would only offer Turkey political support when the alliance's governing body convenes in Brussels today.

Turkish officials -- speaking before the second shooting incident -- said they were looking for their fellow Nato allies to step up pressure on Syria but said they were "not talking about war".

Syria insists the plane was shot down inside its airspace.

"What happened is a gross violation of Syrian sovereignty," said Jihad al-Makdissi, the Syrian foreign ministry's spokes-man. Syrian officials did not immediately comment on Turkey's latest accusation

Meanwhile, Syria's regime suffered its highest-ranking military defection yesterday when a general fled to Turkey after deserting a senior command in Damascus.

The officer, who has promised to disclose his identity in the coming days, was accompanied by a colonel and at least 20 other soldiers.

The number of defections into Turkey is rising, with activists saying that lower-ranking officers are deserting on a near "daily" basis.

"We have noticed increases in defections since the regime started using heavier weapons . . . a lot of army officers decided that they couldn't take part. Yes, they are in the regime's army, but they are still our brothers," Louay al-Mokdad, a logistical coordinator with the Free Syrian Army in Turkey, said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent