By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Turkey has called for an extraordinary meeting of the NATO military alliance to discuss what it calls Syria’s “aggressive” downing of a Turkish fighter jet over the Mediterranean.
Speaking on his country’s TRT state television, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that the Phantom fighter jet was on a routine training mission when it inadvertently strayed into Syrian airspace on June 22.
Davutoglu said the plane carried no weaponry and that its mission was not related to continued unrest in Syria.
“The plane was unarmed,” he said. “A jet which is sent on a risky mission wouldn’t fly unarmed. Jets fly unarmed only on training and testing missions. All sides are aware of that. Not necessarily because they are advised but because such flights are conducted with open identity. Our plane’s identity could be seen by all. It was not hiding [its] identity. Our jet’s identity could have been observed by everyone in line with rules of flight.”
The Turkish foreign minister said the plane was shot down 15 minutes after voluntarily reentering international airspace.
Turkish media reports that rescue crews have located the wreckage of the plane in Syrian waters at a depth of more than 1,000 meters. No trace of the Phantom’s two pilots has been found.
NATO officials are due to meet on June 26 to discuss the downing, which comes as the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad is facing mounting criticism for more than a year of bloodshed in the country.
Davutoglu said he also planned to discuss the case before the UN Security Council, where Western powers are seeking to push through a motion that would allow stronger measures against Assad.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned Syria for what she called its “brazen and unacceptable” behavior. Clinton said in a written statement it was “yet another reflection of the Syrian authorities callous disregard for international norms, human life, and peace and security.”
Clinton said she spoke with Davutoglu on June 23 to convey the United States’ “grave concern” over the incident.
Syria insists the shooting was not an attack and that the Turkish plane had violated its airspace. But Davutoglu said the jet was already far outside Syrian airspace at the time of the shooting.
“Our plane was shot at a distance of 13 sea miles from Syria’s border in international airspace. The Syrian administration is trying to relate these two incidents (violation of its airspace and downing of the jet). However, it cannot be done,” he said. “The violation of its airspace wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t done on purpose.”
Both the United Nations and Iran — Syria’s strongest regional ally — have called for restraint on both sides.
But British Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned Syria for what he called its “outrageous act,” saying in a statement that the Assad regime “will be held to account for its behavior.”