By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times –
BEIRUT — The regional standoff concerning Syria’s downing of a Turkish fighter jet off the Syrian coast shows no signs of abating.
On Monday, Syria disputed Turkey’s version of events, repeating that Syrian anti-aircraft batteries shot down the Turkish F4 Phantom well inside Syrian airspace over the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey’s foreign minister said Sunday that the military jet had inadvertently wandered into Syrian territory but was back in international airspace when it was hit.
The incident has aggravated already-tense relations between two nations bitterly at odds about Turkey’s tacit support for the rebellion inside Syria against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The Turkish fighter, flying low and fast, according to Syria’s account, was shot down Friday with a machine gun that has a maximum range of about 1.5 miles, a Syrian foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, told reporters Monday in Damascus. The gun’s full range from the Syrian coast would be within Syria’s territorial limits, according to the spokesman’s account. There had earlier been speculation that the aircraft was hit with an anti-aircraft missile, which would have a longer range.
”The Syrian response was an act of defense of our sovereignty,” Makdissi said.
On Sunday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davotoglu told Turkish television that the aircraft was shot down 13 nautical miles off the coast of Syria, after it had “momentarily” strayed into Syrian airspace. Turkey said the jet was on a routine exercise and denied that it was spying on Syria or testing Syria’s air defenses.
Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has called for a special meeting of its NATO allies on Tuesday to consult about the incident. Analysts say a military response by Turkey or NATO is unlikely. But Turkish officials outraged about the incident are seeking a broad international condemnation of Syria’s actions. Turkey also says it wants to bring up the issue before the United Nations Security Council.
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton termed Syria’s action “a brazen and unacceptable act.”
The two Turkish pilots remained missing and search efforts continued, officials said. Turkey says wreckage has been located on the seabed at a depth of more than 3,000 feet.