Turkish jet downs Syrian warplane near border

ISTANBUL — Turkish fighter jets shot down a Syrian warplane Sunday after it violated the country’s airspace, Turkey’s prime minister said, in a move likely to ramp up tensions between two countries already deeply at odds over Syria’s civil war.

A spokesman for Syria’s military confirmed the incident, denouncing it as a “blatant aggression.” The unnamed spokesman quoted on Syrian state TV said the plane was hit while pursuing gunmen near the border, and that the pilot safely ejected from the aircraft.

Turkey, a NATO member that once enjoyed good ties with Syria, has emerged as one of the strongest critics of Syrian President Bashar Assad and is now one of the main backers of the 3-year-old rebellion against him. Hostilities have flared along the border on several occasions, although the exchanges of fire have generally been brief and very limited in scope.

Despite protestations from Syria, there was little indication either side wanted the confrontation to escalate.

In a statement, the Turkish military said a Syrian MiG-23 entered Turkey’s airspace near the Hatay border zone after ignoring four warnings to turn back. One of two Turkish F-16s conducting a patrol in the area then fired a missile that struck the Syrian jet, which crashed 1,200 meters (yards) inside Syrian territory near the town of Kassab, the military said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking at a rally in northwestern Turkey a week ahead of local elections, congratulated the military, and said the strike should serve as a warning against further incursions.

“If you violate our border, our slap will be hard,” he said.

The Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV, which has a network of reporters around Syria, reported that the pilot of the downed warplane landed in the village of Bahluliya in Latakia province. It gave no further details.

Syrian rebels launched an offensive in the Kassab area of Latakia near the Turkish border on Friday. The rugged hills near the frontier have been engulfed in heavy fighting since then.

On Sunday, activists and state media reported clashes near the town, and said both sides were dispatching reinforcements. Syrian officials said the opposition fighters were coming from inside Turkey.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported clashes between troops and rebels led by fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front near Kassab and a strategic hill known as “Observatory 45.” It added that some of the shells fired by Syrian troops fell on the Turkish side of the border.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry said Sunday that the Turkish government has launched over the past two days an “unprecedented and absolutely unjustified military aggression against the sovereignty of the Syrian territories in the Kassab.”

It said that “this aggression aimed to cover the entry of armed groups into Syria and was part of the aggressive policies of the government of Recept Tayyip Erdogan.”

This is not the first time that the Turkish military has downed a Syrian aircraft near the border.

In September, a Turkish fighter jet shot down a Syrian military helicopter after it entered Turkish airspace. The helicopter strayed 2 kilometers (more than 1 mile) into Turkish airspace, but crashed inside Syria after being hit by missiles fired from the jet, Turkish officials said at the time.

Turkey changed its rules of engagement in 2012 after Syria shot down a Turkish military plane, declaring that any Syrian military element approaching the Turkish border would be treated as a legitimate target.

More in Local News

At long last, a church of his own

After years of filling in elsewhere, Hallack Greider is the new pastor at Maplewood Presbyterian.

Judge: Lawmakers’ emails, texts subject to public disclosure

News organizations had sued to challenge the Legislature’s claim that members were exempt.

Herald photos of the week

A weekly collection of The Herald’s top images by staff photographers and… Continue reading

Outgoing councilwoman honored by Marysville Fire District

The Marysville Fire District in December honored outgoing City Councilwoman Donna Wright… Continue reading

Everett district relents on eminent domain moving expenses

Homeowners near Bothell still must be out by April to make way for a planned new high school.

Their grown children died, but state law won’t let them sue

Families are seeking a change in the state’s limiting wrongful-death law.

Officials rule train-pedestrian death an accident

The 37-year-old man was trying to move off the tracks when the train hit him, police say.

Number of flu-related deaths in county continues to grow

Statewide, 86 people have died from the flu, most of whom were 65 or older.

Ex-Monroe cop re-arrested after losing sex crime case appeal

He was sentenced to 14 months in prison but was free while trying to get his conviction overturned.

Most Read