Turkey intercepts Syrian passenger plane
BY SUZAN FRASER Associated Press
Thursday, October 11, 2012
10/11/12 at 4:20 AM
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 between Turkey and Syria that have sparked fears of a wider regional conflict.
The Syrian Air jetliner was traveling from Moscow when it was intercepted by F16 jets as it entered Turkish airspace and was escorted to the capital's Esenboga Airport, state-run TRT television reported.
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. He said authorities continued to examine the cargo.
Davutoglu earlier told Turkey's TGRT television that 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 added. "We cannot accept that our air space be used for such aims."
Hurriyet newspaper's website, citing unidentified intelligence officials, said communications equipment, wireless sets and jammers were found on board. NTV television reported that authorities found "missile parts."
Syrian Information Minister Omran Zuabi declined comment.
The move comes as tensions between Turkey and Syria are running high. The countries, which were 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.
The Anadolu news agency reported fighting between Syrian rebels and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime around the town of Azmarin, in Idlib province, across from the Turkish border. It said Syrians were fleeing homes in the Azmarin region, some crossing into Turkey by boat over the Orontes River.
Original Print Headline: Turkish F16s force Syria jetliner to land
People gather atop the aircraft steps of a Syrian passenger plane that was forced by Turkish jets to land at Esenboga Airport in Ankara, Turkey, on Wednesday. BURHAN OZBILICI/Associated Press