A warplane crashes in flames in a mountainous area in northern Syria after it was shot down by Turkish fighter jets near the Turkish-Syrian border on Tuesday. Turkish fighter jets shot down the Russian-made jet after repeatedly warning it over airspace violations, Turkish officials said, but Moscow said it could prove the jet had not left Syrian airspace. (Reuters Photo/Sadettin Molla)

Turkey Downs Russian Jet Near Syria Border; Moscow Denies Airspace Violation

BY :TULAY KARADENIZ & MARIA KISELYOVA

NOVEMBER 24, 2015

Ankara/Moscow. Turkish fighter jets shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border on Tuesday after repeated warnings over airspace violations, but Moscow said it could prove the jet had not left Syrian airspace.

It was the first time a NATO member’s armed forces have downed a Russian or Soviet military aircraft since the 1950s.

A Kremlin spokesman said it was a “very serious incident” but that it was too early to draw conclusions.

Footage from private Turkish broadcaster Haberturk TV showed the warplane going down in flames in a woodland area, a long plume of smoke trailing behind it. The plane went down in area known by Turks as “Turkmen Mountain,” it said.

Separate footage from Turkey’s Anadolu Agency showed two pilots parachuting out of the jet before it crashed.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said one of its Su-24 fighter jets had been downed in Syria and that, according to preliminary information, the pilots were able to eject. It said the aircraft had been over Syria for the duration of its flight.

The Turkish military said the aircraft had been warned 10 times in the space of five minutes about violating Turkish airspace. Officials said a second plane had also approached the border and been warned.

“The data we have is very clear. There were two planes approaching our border, we warned them as they were getting too close,” a senior Turkish official told Reuters.

“We warned them to avoid entering Turkish airspace before they did, and we warned them many times. Our findings show clearly that Turkish airspace was violated multiple times. And they violated it knowingly,” the official said.

Search for pilots

Russia’s unilateral decision to launch air strikes in Syria mean Russian and NATO planes have been flying combat missions in the same airspace for the first time since World War Two, targeting various insurgent groups close to Turkish borders.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was briefed by the head of the military, while Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu ordered consultations with NATO, the United Nations and related countries, their respective offices said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said the warplane crashed in a mountainous area in the northern countryside of Syria’s Latakia province, where there had been aerial bombardment earlier and where pro-government forces have been battling insurgents on the ground.

Islamic State, which has beheaded foreign captives in the past, is not known to have a presence there.

One of the pilots was in the hands of Turkmen forces in Syria who were looking for the other one, broadcaster CNN Turk reported, citing local sources. Russian military helicopters were also searching for the pilots, Turkey’s Dogan news agency reported.

Both Russia and its ally, Syria’s government, have carried out strikes in the area. A Syrian military source said the reported downing was being investigated.

Turkey called this week for a UN Security Council meeting to discuss attacks on Turkmens in neighboring Syria, and last week Ankara summoned the Russian ambassador to protest the bombing of their villages.

Ankara has traditionally expressed solidarity with Syrian Turkmens, who are Syrians of Turkish descent.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is due to visit Turkey on Wednesday to discuss Syria, in a trip arranged before this incident. Erdogan is meanwhile expected to visit Russia for talks with Putin in late December.

About 1,700 people have fled the mountainous Syrian area near to the Turkish border as a result of fighting in the last three days, a Turkish official said on Monday. Russian jets have bombed the area in support of ground operations by Syrian government forces.

Reuters

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