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Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Turkey shoots down Russian fighter jet 'near Syrian border'

Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border on Tuesday after repeatedly warning it over air space violations, Turkish officials said, but Moscow said it could prove the jet had not left Syrian air space.

It was the first time a NATO member's armed forces have downed a Russian or Soviet military aircraft since the 1950s and Russian and Turkish stocks fell on fears of an escalation between the former Cold War enemies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the plane had been attacked when it was 1 km (0.62 mile) inside Syria and warned of "serious consequences" for Moscow’s relations with Ankara.

Speaking in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi before a meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah, Putin called the Turkish downing of a Russian Su-24 fighter jet a "stab in the back committed by accomplices of terrorists."

Issued warnings

Earlier Tuesday, a Turkish military statement confirmed its fighter jets had brought down an aircraft that had entered Turkish airspace. It said the plane was warned 10 times within the space of 5 minutes.

"On Nov. 24, 2015 at around 9.20am, a plane whose nationality is not known violated the Turkish airspace despite several warnings (10 times within five minutes) in the area of Yayladagi, Hatary," the military said before the plane's nationality was confirmed.
Hatay, sometimes also known as Hatary, is a southern Turkish province right by the Syrian border.

"Two F-16 planes on aerial patrol duty in the area intervened against the plane in question in accordance with the rules of engagement at 9.24am," said the Turkish military statement.

In a statement released shortly after the incident, Russia's defence ministry said one of its Su-24 fighter jets had been downed in Syria. "The Ministry of Defense would like to stress that the plane was over the Syrian territory throughout the flight".

Russia and Turkey have summoned each other’s diplomatic representatives and NATO is holding a meeting of its ambassadors later Tuesday.

Video of downed jet

The incident came as Russian and Syrian jets are carrying out a heavy bombing campaign against targets in northern Syria, right by the Turkish border. Russia launched a campaign of air strikes in Syria to bolster President Bashar al-Assad's government in the ongoing civil war in late September.

Footage aired on the private Turkish broadcaster Haberturk TV on Tuesday showed the warplane going down in flames in a woodland area, a long plume of smoke trailing behind it.

Separate footage from Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency showed two pilots parachuting out of the jet before it crashed.

A video clip sent to Reuters by a Syrian rebel group on Tuesday appeared to show a Russian pilot immobile and badly wounded on the ground.

"A Russian pilot," a voice is heard saying on the video, as a group of men gather around him. "God is great," a voice is heard saying off-camera.

There was no mention of a second Russian pilot who was in the plane.

The video was sent to Reuters by a rebel group operating in the northwestern area of Syria, where groups including the opposition Free Syrian Army are operating but the Islamic State group has no known presence.

Tensions between Russia and Turkey

The latest incident threatens to worsen relations between Russia and Turkey, the only Muslim-majority NATO member.

NATO allies are set to hold an "extraordinary" meeting later Tuesday at Ankara's request to discuss Turkey's downing of the Russian fighter jet along the Syrian border, according to a spokesman for the 28-member military alliance.

Since the launch of Russian airstrikes in Syria, there have been a number of incidents involving Turkish and Russian airplanes along the Syria-Turkey border.

Russian fighter jets entered Turkish airspace in two separate incidents in October, prompting Ankara to summon the Russian ambassador twice to protest both violations.
Turkey called this week for a UN Security Council meeting to discuss attacks on Turkmens in neighbouring Syria. Ankara has traditionally expressed solidarity with Syrian Turkmens, who are Syrians of Turkish descent.

The Turkish military in October also shot down a Russian-made drone that had entered its airspace. But Moscow denied the drone belonged to its forces.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to visit Turkey on Wednesday in a bid to smooth ties between the two countries and find a joint approach to finding peace in Syria.

Along with Saudi Arabia and the United States, Turkey and Russia are taking part in talks in Vienna that aim to narrow differences on the Syria conflict and have taken on an extra importance after the Paris attacks.

A Turkish foreign ministry official told AFP Lavrov's visit would go ahead as planned. "There is no change in the programme," said the official.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

france24.com
24/11/15
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