Nato states have expressed mounting anger over the downing of a Turkish fighter jet by Syria as they readied for an emergency meeting on the shooting.
Ankara says the aircraft was fired on in international waters, not inside Syrian airspace as Damascus maintains, and is urging ministers at Tuesday’s meeting to honour the collective defence rights of a fellow Nato member.
France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Monday that Syria’s downing of the alliance jet was “unacceptable”.
“This plane was not carrying arms and was on a routine flight ... there was no prior warning,” Fabius said. “This is completely unacceptable.”
Nato said it would hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday following a request from Turkey that invoked Article Four of the alliance’s founding treaty, which covers threats to member states’ security.
Turkey has already acknowledged that its fighter jet might at some point have entered Syrian airspace. But after an initially cautious response, Ankara toughened its rhetoric on Sunday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkey’s TRT television that at the time it was shot down, their plane was in international airspace, 13 nautical miles from Syria.
Syria had given no warning before opening fire, he added.
Putting Turkey’s capabilities to the test
The fighter had been on an unarmed training mission to carry out a radar system test, and both crew are still missing.
“The Syrians knew full well that it was a Turkish military plane and the nature of its mission,” said Davutoglu.
“Nobody should dare put Turkey’s [military] capabilities to the test,” he warned.
Syria has acknowledged shooting down the F-4 phantom jet after it violated its airspace, but insists it only identified it as a Turkish fighter after the fact.
“What happened was an accident and not an assault as some like to say,” Syrian foreign ministry spokesperson Jihad Makdissi told the pro-government Al-Watan daily on Sunday.
But UN Security Council member Britain warned that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime “should not make the mistake of believing that it can act with impunity”.
“It will be held to account for its behaviour,” Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned a “brazen and unacceptable act” and promised US assistance in investigating the incident.
“It is yet another reflection of the Syrian authorities’ callous disregard for international norms, human life, and peace and security,” Clinton said in a statement.
Turkish-Syrian relations have been strained by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s outspoken condemnation of the Assad regime’s bloody crackdown, which activists say has killed more than 15,000 people since March last year.
Already Saturday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon had expressed his “deep concern” about the incident, particularly about the “potential serious implications” for the region, spokesperson Martin Nesirky said.
The fighting inside Syria claimed at least 91 more lives on Sunday, 59 of them civilians, the Britian-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The official SANA news agency reported that regime troops had killed “dozens of terrorists” after engaging them as they attacked people in the Jabaliyeh neighbourhood of the eastern city of Deir Ezzor.
The Observatory said that following an attack on an artillery battalion in the main northern city of Aleppo, a number of soldiers had defected, taking with them a large quantity of weapons.
And it said that rebels had shot down a Syrian regime helicopter near the Jordanian border.
“This is one of the bloodiest weeks in the conflict,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Observatory, said.
“It’s like we are in a war. Sometimes when two countries are at war, not even 20 people are killed a day. But now in Syria it has become normal to have 100 killed each day.”
Australia announced fresh sanctions against the Assad regime while the European Union added names of individuals and companies to its own blacklist.
“The Assad regime continues to show its unwillingness to negotiate a ceasefire and bring an end to Syria’s bloodshed,” Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr said.
In an opinion piece for the Australian newspaper, Carr called for Moscow to take a lead role in forcing Assad out.
The new European Union measures approved by foreign ministers of the 27-nation bloc at a meeting in Luxembourg included a specific ban on insuring items embargoed for delivery to Syria, including arms shipments.
The prohibition follows an incident last week involving a British-insured Russian cargo ship reportedly carrying attack helicopters for Syria. – AFP