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A Syrian passenger plane is seen after it was forced to land at Ankara airport, Turkey. The plane was headed to Damascus from Moscow with 35 passengers on board, according to Turkish media.
MOSCOW: Tensions flared between Turkey and Syria as well as top Syrian ally Russia yesterday after Ankara forced a Syrian passenger plane from Moscow, reportedly carrying arms, to land in the Turkish capital.
Russia demanded an explanation, accusing the Turkish authorities of endangering the lives of passengers, while the Syrian regime furiously demanded that Turkey return the cargo it had seized at Ankara’s Esenboga airport.
The incident risks not only inflaming tensions between Turkey and the Syrian government — already at bitter odds — but also hurting ties between Ankara and Moscow which have starkly differing views on the Syria conflict.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey had seized “illegal cargo” from the plane, adding that Turkey would hold on to it for further investigation. He declined to elaborate on the contents.
The Syrian foreign ministry said the government demanded “a complete and proper restitution of the contents of the plane” which were still being held by Ankara even after the aircraft finally flew on to Damascus.
The interception of the plane was “hostile and reprehensible behaviour” on the part of Turkey, the foreign ministry added. Turkey had scrambled two jets to force down the SyrianAir Airbus A-320 after reportedly receiving intelligence it was carrying military cargo for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Amid speculation among commentators of growing tensions between Russia and an increasingly assertive Turkey, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said yesterday that the Russian leader has postponed a visit to Turkey.
A source in the office of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the visit would now take place on December 3 but Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was just one of the possible dates being discussed.
The trip had been reportedly scheduled for October 15 although the first media reports of the postponement surfaced before the plane was intercepted on Wednesday.
Russia, a top ally of the Damascus regime and its biggest arms supplier, said Ankara had put the lives of passengers at risk by forcing it to land in the Turkish capital. “We are concerned that this emergency situation put at risk the lives and safety of passengers, who included 17 Russian citizens,” said a statement by foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.