Syrian plane 'had military cargo'11/10/2012 - 11:49:44
A Syrian passenger plane intercepted by Turkey’s air force was carrying military communications equipment, Turkish media has reported as Damascus branded the incident piracy amid growing tensions between the two countries.
Turkish state-run television TRT and newspaper Yeni Safak said there were 10 containers aboard the plane, some containing radio receivers, antennas and “equipment that are thought to be missile parts”.
Neither gave sources for their reports, and Turkish officials have yet to provide details on what was aboard the Syrian Air A320 from Moscow that was forced to land in Ankara yesterday.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the cargo contained “elements ... that are not legitimate in civilian flights” and insisted Ankara was within its rights to intercept the plane if it suspected that military equipment was being transported over Turkish territory.
But Syrian Transport Minister Mohammad Ibrahim Said said today that Turkey’s decision to force the plane to land amounted to piracy.
Sabre rattling between Syria and its northern neighbour has increased in recent days after a spate of cross-border shell and mortar firings. Turkey, which has been vocal in its criticism of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on the opposition, has beefed up its military presence along the 565-mile (910kms) frontier after shelling from Syria killed five Turkish civilians in a border town last week.
The plane incident has also increased tensions between Turkey and Russia, one of Syria last remaining allies.
An official at the Russian embassy in Ankara said the cargo “was not of Russian origin.” Rosoboronexport, which handles most of Russia’s military export contracts, said none of its cargo was on the plane.
Meanwhile Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Russia was concerned that Turkey “threatened the safety and lives of the passengers, including 17 Russian citizens”.
He said Turkey denied Russian consular officials and a doctor access to the passengers, who were held outside the airport for eight hours without food, without explanation.
“The Russian side continues to insist Turkish authorities explain the reason for their actions toward the Russian citizens and the measures they will take to ensure such measures do not happen again in the future,” Mr Lukashevich said.
The plane’s 37 passengers and crew were allowed to continue to Damascus after several hours, without the cargo.
Also today, Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz announced that Syria had stopped buying electricity from Turkish suppliers about a week ago.
“The door is open. If they request (electricity) again then we could resume providing it,” Mr Yildiz told reporters, adding that it was Syria’s own decision.
He said Turkish companies supply around 2.3 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year. The electricity amounted to some 18-20% of Syria’s needs, he said.
He did not say why Syria had halted purchases, saying only “It was an agreement between Syria and the companies.”
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