A Syrian passenger plane is seen after it was forced to land Oct. 10 at Ankara airport. The plane was forced to land in Ankara on suspicions that it was carrying weapons, Anatolia news agency reported. (Adem Altan / AFP)
DAMASCUS — Syria accused Turkey of hostility on Oct. 11 after it intercepted a passenger jet en route from Moscow that Ankara said carried military equipment and ammunition for the Damascus regime.
As the tensions between Damascus and Ankara soared, rebels fighting forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad won more territory as they bid to secure a “buffer zone” in a swathe of land abutting the Turkish border, an AFP reporter said.
U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi waded back into the Syrian fray, meanwhile, holding talks with officials in Saudi Arabia, which like Turkey has called for Assad to quit and supports the rebels.
Ankara scrambled two jets Oct. 10 to force down the Syrian Air Airbus A-320, Turkish officials said, after receiving intelligence its cargo did not comply with civil aviation rules.
The aircraft, which had 35 passengers on board, was grounded for nine hours before it was allowed to resume its journey to Damascus, as Turkey said it confiscated unspecified “objectionable” cargo.
Damascus said the interception was “hostile and reprehensible” and “another sign of the hostile policies of the Erdogan government, which harbors (rebels) and bombs Syrian territory.”
It furiously demanded Turkey return the cargo it had seized at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport.
“Turkish military aircraft ... forced the plane to land without giving prior warning. The military aircraft were so close that there could have been an accident,” said Syrian Air director Aida Abdel Latif.
But Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Oct. 11 that the plane carried military equipment and ammunition for the Syrian regime.
In remarks televised by NTV news channel, he said the cargo was “equipment and ammunition shipped to the Syrian Defence Ministry” from a Russian military supplier.
Erdogan did not name the Russian supplier but said it was the Russian counterpart of Turkey’s Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation, which is the Turkish army’s main provider of military equipment.
Russia, a top Damascus ally and its biggest arms supplier, said Ankara had put the passengers’ lives at risk and denied the plane was carrying weapons or military equipment.
“We are concerned that this emergency situation put at risk the lives and safety of passengers, who included 17 Russian citizens,” said Russia’s foreign ministry.
Tensions have been running high between Ankara and Damascus since the eruption of the conflict in March 2011 and were inflamed after a series of shell strikes from Syria on Turkish soil, including one attack that killed five civilians last week.