Turkey confirms Syria shot down F-4 military jet, search for pilots ongoing
Syria shot down a Turkish military fighter jet in the eastern Mediterranean on Friday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s office said in a statement, amid earlier ambiguity over whether the plane had been downed by Syrian defense forces or had crashed.
“As a result of information obtained from the evaluation of our concerned institutions and from within the joint search and rescue operations with Syria, it is understood that our plane was brought down by Syria,” Erdogan’s office said.
Turkey would decide on its response to the incident once all of the details became clear, it said in the statement, issued after a two-hour meeting between Erdogan, members of his cabinet and the military.
His office also said that search and rescue operations were continuing for two missing pilots.
Following Erdogan's statement, the Syrian military said it shot down the Turkish military aircraft "over Syrian territorial waters."
"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," a statement by the military circulated on state media said.
Earlier on Friday, Erdogan said he could not confirm whether Syria had admitted to shooting down a Turkish warplane in the Mediterranean.
While reports had circulated that Syria had apologized for the incident, claiming it was a mistake, Erdogan told a press conference in Ankara that he had no firm information on the apology.
He had also said he could not confirm whether the plane had been shot down or crashed.
Earlier, the Turkish army said it lost radar and radio contact with one of its aircrafts on the Mediterranean near neighboring Syria, and a television station said it had crashed in Syrian territorial waters.
The conflicting, or perhaps extra cautious, statements from the Turkish PM came after Erdogan was reportedly quoted by Haberturk daily newspaper earlier on Friday as saying: "Syria immediately offered a very serious apology for the incident and admitted it was a mistake."
He had also been quoted by the paper as saying the two pilots of the Turkish F-4 fighter jet were alive after the incident.
“At this moment the air force and navy are conducting search and rescue operations in the western Mediterranean and luckily our pilots are alive, we have just lost a plane,” he told journalists while travelling back from Brazil.
In Ankara, Erdogan told reporters there is no news on the pilots and Turkish ships and helicopters were searching for the missing pilots together with Syrian ships.
The senior adviser to the Turkish president, Arshad Harmozlo, had said that the statement from the Turkish news report was baseless, and instead reiterated Erdogan’s comments.
“We have no confirmation surrounding the Syrian apology or even that Syria has shot down the jet … The rescue operation to find the pilots continues,” he told Al Arabiya in a telephone interview.
He also said he has no information on claims Turkish jet pilots have been captured by Syria.
Shortly after, Erdogan met military and intelligence chiefs and key ministers for a security meeting, after which he released a statement confirming Syria had downed the plane.
Earlier on Friday, Lebanon’s Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar television station had already confirmed this. The channel said that Syrian air defenses shot down the Turkish military aircraft, quoting Syrian security sources.
“Syrian security sources confirmed to a Manar correspondent in Damascus that Syrian defense forces shot down the Turkish fighter jet,” the Hezbollah-owned channel said.
Meanwhile, pro-Iranian Al-Mayadeen television station, which is based in Lebanon, quoted what it said were Turkish sources as saying a jet had been shot down by Syrian air defenses near the border with Turkey.
We have no confirmation surrounding the Syrian apology or even that Syria has shot down the jet … The rescue operation to find the pilots continues
Arshad Harmozlo, senior adviser to the Turkish president
Turkey, which had drawn close to Syria before the uprising against Assad, became one of the Syrian leader’s fiercest critics when he responded violently to pro-democracy protests inspired by popular upheavals elsewhere in the Arab world.
Ankara has previously floated the possibility of setting up some kind of safe haven or humanitarian corridor inside Syria, which would entail military intervention, but has said it would undertake no such action without U.N. Security Council approval.
Turkey said it had lost contact with one of its military aircraft off its southeastern coast, and a television station said it had crashed in Syrian territorial waters.
The plane took off from Malatya airbase in the southeast at 0730 GMT and lost communication with the base at 0858 GMT in the southwest of the Hatay province bordering Syria, the military command said in a statement posted online.
“Search and rescue efforts have started immediately,” it said.
The Hurriyet daily newspaper reported that the plane had gone down in international waters and that the two airmen had been found alive and well following a search operation by Turkish forces.
Turkish warplanes regularly patrol along and off Turkey's southern Mediterranean coast.