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MOSCOW, October 11 (Itar-Tass) — The actions of the Turkish authorities towards the plane of Syrian Airlines can only be regarded as an act of “air piracy,” Syrian Transport Minister Mahmoud Said stated on Thursday. In an interview with the Lebanese Al-Manar TV channel he stressed that the forced landing of a civilian plane by the Turkish Air Force fighters is a “blatant violation of international air navigation norms.”
The Airbus A-320 airliner took off from Moscow’s Vnukovo airport to Damascus at 15:26, Wednesday. After it entered the Turkish airspace the F-16 fighters of the Turkish Air Force intercepted the airliner and forced it to land at the Turkish capital’s airport. The Airbus had 37 people, including crewmembers and 17 Russians with children, on board. After a nine-hour detention the plane continued its flight to Damascus.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu explained the reason for the airliner’s forced landing: “There is information that the plane had cargo on board that does not meet the requirements of civil aviation.” “The plane had been forced down because it was carrying “non-civilian cargo” and “banned material,” Davutoglu said. Officers of the customs and counter-terrorism services took from the plane over a dozen sealed containers. According to available information, they contained military communications equipment. It has also been reported that parts of weapons were in the boxes. However, the containers’ content information has not been officially confirmed.
Head of the consular department of the Russian Embassy in Ankara Yelena Kara-Sal said, “This cargo is so far reported to be not of Russian origin. Employees of the embassy during the day will get in contact with the local authorities for details.” she said.
Turkey’s actions have put at risk the lives of Russians that were on board the plane of Syrian Airlines, and Moscow demands explanations, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich stated on Thursday. The diplomat recalled that the Turkish authorities on the night from October 10 to 11 forced a Syrian civilian plane that was flying from Moscow to Damascus to land at Ankara airport. “We are troubled that the lives of the passengers aboard the plane, including 17 Russian citizens were put at risk by this inappropriate act. Turkey did not inform Russia that Russian citizens were among those detained on the plane. We found this out through the electronic media,” Lukashevich said. “The Russian Embassy in Ankara demanded that the Turkish authorities provide access to the Russian citizens. Consular officials and a doctor were sent to the airport,” the RF Foreign Ministry specified. “However, the Turkish authorities without explaining the reason and in violation of the bilateral Consular Convention did not allow the diplomats to meet with our citizens, which during 8 hours were not admitted into the airport building, only sometimes they were allowed to come down on the tarmac,” Lukashevich stated. “Meals were not provided to them,” Lukashevich stated. The Russian side “continues to insist on the need of explaining of the reasons for such actions of the Turkish authorities against Russian citizens and taking measures to prevent incidents of the kind in the future.
Almost simultaneously with the incident it became known that Syrian airspace is now closed for the flights of Turkish civil aircraft by the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s order. On Wednesday, the pilots flying through Syria received an urgent order to return to the nearest Turkish airports. The Turkish foreign minister explained that “Syrian airspace is no longer safe.” “It began to pose a constantly growing risk to civil aviation. A civil war continues in the country, and the tension is very high. We made this decision, like many other countries,” Davutoglu said. At the same time, Turkish airspace is still open for the Syrian civil aviation.
It is noteworthy - amid the plane incident – that, as Itar-Tass has learnt from NATO diplomatic sources, the Turkish armed forces on Thursday were put on high alert. “The developments in relations between Ankara and Damascus are going under the worst scenario, the NATO leadership conducts practically continuous consultations on the analysis of the situation on the Turkish-Syrian border,” the European diplomat said. According to information from London, 25 F-16 fighter jets of the Turkish Air Force were additionally deployed at the Diyarbakir airbase near the Syrian border earlier this week. Turkey intends to create over northern Syria a restricted area for Syrian government aviation, a staff member of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) told Itar-Tass. It is in this context that both Ankara’s deployment of large Air Force units on the border with Syria and the Wednesday incident with the Syrian civilian airliner A-320 should be viewed.