Turkey downs Syria warplane on border

‘Our slap after this will be hard,’ Turkish premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned after the incident

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Turkish anti-aircraft fire shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday as it bombed rebels fighting to seize control of a border post in northwestern Syria, Turkey’s premier said, confirming media reports.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan congratulated the military for downing the plane and warned of a “heavy” response if its airspace was violated.

“A Syrian plane violated our airspace. Our F-16s took off and hit this plane. Why? because if you violate my airspace, our slap after this will be hard,” Erdogan told a rally of his supporters in northwest Turkey ahead of March 30 local elections, Reuters reported.

“Our response will be heavy if you violate our airspace,” Erdogan said during an election rally, referring to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria’s military confirmed the attack, calling the act a “blatant aggression.”

The unnamed army spokesman was quoted by Syrian state TV as saying the plane was downed in Syrian airspace as it was attacking rebels who have been on the offensive in the coastal province of Latakia. The spokesman said the pilot ejected from the aircraft.

“In a flagrant act of aggression that is evidence of Erdogan's support for terrorist groups, Turkish anti-aircraft defences shot down a Syrian military aircraft that was chasing terrorist groups inside Syrian territory at Kasab,” a military source said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Turkey is among the main backers of Syrian opposition fighters trying to remove Assad from power.

The downing of the plane came as Syrian government troops were trying try regain a border crossing point with Turkey near the town of Kassab that rebels captured Friday.

Turkish warplanes last year downed a Syrian helicopter, which Ankara said was detected two kilometers inside Turkish airspace.

Turkey toughened its rules of engagement after the downing of one of its fighter jets by the Syrian air force in June 2012, to say that any military approach of their border from Syria would be considered a threat.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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