Turkish jets on Wednesday forced a Syrian passenger plane to land at Ankara airport on suspicion that it may be carrying missiles and weapons, officials and news reports said.
State-run TRT television said an Airbus A320 coming from Moscow was intercepted by F-16 jets as it entered Turkishairspace and escorted to the capital’s Esenboga Airport.
The station said authorities grounded the plane on suspicion that it was carrying heavy weapons.
According to reports, the equipment found on the plane also included “military communication devices and components that could be used for missiles.”
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Selcuk Unal confirmed ss that a Syrian plane was forced to land.
“We asked a Syrian civilian plane to land,” he said in an email. “We are investigating.”
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, said that the plane was forced to land because of information that it may be carrying “certain equipment in breach of civil aviation rules.”
Davutoglu added that Turkey received intelligence that the plane was carrying “non-civilian” cargo.
“Turkey is determined to stop any transfer of weapons to the Syrian administration through its airspace,” he said.
Turkey later confiscated the suspicious cargo found on board, announced NTV television.
According to NTV, Turkish authorities believe that the cargo contains parts of missiles. The plane awaits the green light from Ankara to resume its flight with 35 passengers on board.
The move comes amid heightened tensions between Turkey and Syria, which have been exchanging artillery fire across the volatile border in the past week.
Russia’s Interfax news agency reported Wednesday that 17 Russian nationals, including children, were aboard the flight and that both Russia and Syria had demanded an explanation from Ankara.
“The Russian Embassy in Turkey immediately sent a communiquÃ© to the Turkish Foreign Ministry demanding an explanation,” the report said.
Meanwhile, Turkish authorities declared the Syrian airspace to be unsafe and were stopping Turkish aircraft from flying over the civil-war torn country, the Foreign Ministry said.
Earlier Wednesday, Turkey’s military chief vowed to respond with more force to any further shelling from Syria, keeping up the pressure on its southern neighbor a day after NATO said it stood ready to defend Turkey.
Gen. Necdet Ozel was inspecting troops who have been put on alert along the 566-mile border with Syria after a week of cross-border artillery and mortar exchanges escalated tensions between the neighbors, sparking fears of a wider regional conflict.
Turkey has reinforced the borderwith artillery guns and also deployed more fighter jets to an air base close to the border region since shelling from Syria killed five Turkish civilians last week.
“We responded and if (the shelling) continues, we will respond with more force,” the private Dogan news agency quoted Ozel as saying during a visit to the town of Akcakale.
Source: Ynet News