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Turkish jet may have been in Syrian airspace when shot down, says Turkish president Abdullah Gul (TELEGRAPH UK) By Justin Vela, in Istanbul and Adrian Blomfield 06/23/12) Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9350778/Turkish-jet-may-have-been-in-Syrian-airspace-when-shot-down-says-Turkish-president-Abdullah-Gul.html
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Turkey has conceded that the Turkish fighter shot down by Syrian air defences may have crossed into the country´s airspace at the time.
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But in an interview on Saturday morning, the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, said there was no reason for the Syrian military to have interpreted the move as a hostile act.
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"It is routine for jet fighters to sometimes fly in and out over (national) borders ... when you consider their speed over the sea," Mr Gul told the Anatolia news agency. "These are not ill-intentioned things but happen beyond control due to the jets´ speed."
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The loss of one of the Turkish Air Force´s F-4 Phantom on Friday marked the most dangerous development yet in Syria´s 15-month uprising and left Western powers scrambling over how to respond. While countries are co-operating together in a search for the two pilots, the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has promised a "decisive" response after the full facts of the incident have been established.
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Although he has not divulged what steps he may be contemplating, a senior member of his ruling party declared last night that if the aircraft was shown to have been shot down by Syria it would amount to a "declaration of war". Mr Gul added: "Whatever is necessary will be done."
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Mr Erdogan flew home from Brazil to hold an emergency briefing with his intelligence and military chiefs after radio and radar contact was lost with the aircraft as it conducted a mission close to the Syrian coast.
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"Following the evaluation of data provided by our related institutions and the findings of the joint search and reduce efforts with Syria, it is understood that our plane was downed by Syria," his office said in a statement.
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Syria confirmed that it had brought down the aircraft, saying in a statement: "Our air defences confronted a target that penetrated our air space over our territorial waters pre-afternoon on Friday and shot it down. It turned out to be a Turkish military plane."
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In a sign that it was aware of the gravity of the situation, Syria seemed to be trying to repair the damage, deploying vessels to join a search and rescue operation to locate the aircraft´s two pilots in the waters off its coast.
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The incident represented the fulfilment of one of the international community´s greatest fears after months of predictions that the Syrian conflict could easily burst its borders.
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Western powers, and particularly the United States, are likely to come under pressure to support Turkey should it choose to retaliate with military force. Mr Erdogan´s government has long warned that it would not tolerate any Syrian challenge to its security.
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The Turkish press has reacted relatively cautiously to the incident. While some headlines said: "Damascus playing with Fire" and "They will pay for it", the overall coverage was not as angry as it sometimes is in responding to attacks by Kurdish rebels in south-east Turkey.
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As a member of Nato, Turkey could potentially invoke Chapter V of the alliance´s treaty which states that an attack on one state would be viewed as an attack on all signatories of the alliance.
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But because the clause dictates that such an attack must be carried out on European or American soil, Mr Erdogan is unlikely to make such demands of his Western allies. But he could well invoke Chapter IV of the treaty, which allows a member state to convene an emergency summit of the whole alliance if "the security of any of the parties is threatened". Turkey came close to doing so in April after Syrian forces opened fire into its territory, wounding two Turkish nationals and two Syrians at a refugee camp close to the borders.
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It was persuaded not to do so by the United States, but is likely to be less malleable now. In return for agreeing to allowing Saudi and Qatari funnel weapons to the rebels through its territory, Mr Erdogan sought and received assurances that America would protect Turkey from any Syrian backlash, according to Western officials.
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Turkey, which has been at the forefront of regional efforts to oust Mr Assad and has given sanctuary to rebels seeking his overthrow, could also try to revive previous efforts to win international support for a buffer zone in Syria´s border regions.The jet incident came as the Syrian government accused its rebel foes of carrying out a "massacre" of Mr Assad´s supporters after the emergence of grisly video footage showing more than a dozen bloodied and mutilated corpses.
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A pro-opposition human rights group confirmed that rebels were behind the killings, but said that the victims were members of the pro-Assad Shabiha, the feared Alawite militia accused of murdering hundreds of Sunni civilians.Meanwhile, government troops killed at least ten people in the city of Aleppo, according to activists.
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Turkey closed its embassy in Damascus in March as relations between the two countries deteriorated, and in late May, expelled Syria´s diplomats. There is, however, still a Turkish consulate operating in Aleppo. (© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2012. 06/23/12)
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