Turkey intercepts Syrian aircraft

Thursday, October 11, 2012

ANKARA, Turkey -- Turkish jets on Wednesday forced a Syrian passenger plane to land at Ankara airport on suspicion that it might be carrying weapons or other military equipment, amid heightened tensions that have sparked fears of a wider regional conflict.

The Syrian Air jetliner was traveling from Moscow when intercepted by F16 jets as it entered Turkish airspace. It was escorted to the capital's Esenboga Airport.

Hours later, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the Airbus A320 with 37 passengers and crew would be allowed to leave, but its cargo had been confiscated.

"There are elements ... that are not legitimate in civilian flights," the state-run Anadolu Agency quoted Davutoglu as saying.

Earlier, Davutoglu said the plane was intercepted on suspicion it was carrying illicit cargo to Damascus.

"We are determined to stop the flow of weapons to a regime that carries out such ruthless massacres," Davutoglu said. "We cannot accept that our air space be used for such aims."

Hurriyet newspaper's website, citing intelligence officials, said communications equipment, wireless sets and jammers were found on board. NTV television reported that authorities also found "missile parts."

Davutoglu said Turkish authorities had also declared Syria's airspace to be unsafe and were stopping Turkish aircraft from flying over the civil war-torn country.

The move comes as tensions between Turkey and Syria are running high.

The countries, once close allies, have been exchanging artillery fire across the volatile border for days.

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.

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