Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives the thumbs-up from the cockpit of the Turkish Primary and Basic Trainer Aircraft 'Hurkus' during a 2012 ceremony at the Turkish Aerospace Industries in Ankara. On March 23, Erdogan congratulated the military for downing a Syrian warplane near its border and warned of a 'heavy' response if its airspace was violated. (Adem Altan / AFP)
ANKARA, TURKEY — Turkey said Sunday it had shot down a Syrian fighter jet for a breach of Turkish airspace, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of a “heavy” response to future violations.
Syria accused its northern neighbor of “flagrant aggression” after Turkish forces shot down the warplane as it bombarded rebels near the border.
But the Turkish military said two Syrian MIG-23 planes approaching its airspace were warned “four times” to turn away and that it scrambled fighter jets when one refused to do so.
In a statement, the Turkish military said the plane breached its airspace by around one kilometer at 1113 GMT and flew over Turkey for another 1.5 kilometers.
“One of the patrolling F-16 jets fired a missile at the Syrian plane ... in line with rules of engagement and the plane fell into the Kasab region on Syrian territory,” it said.
Both Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul congratulated the Turkish armed forces following the incident.
“Our response from now will be heavy if you violate our airspace,” Erdogan warned during an election rally, addressing the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The foreign ministry said Turkey had acted within its rights under international law, and called the Syrian regime’s accusations “baseless.”
Turkey would continue to exercise its right of self-defense in the future, warning Damascus “not to test the determination of the Turkish Armed Forces,” it said in a statement.
Ankara has notified the United Nations and NATO, it said.
Defence Minister Ismet Yilmaz said Turkey had the “strength” and “capacity” to protect its borders.
“Turkey’s determination should not be tested,” he said in televised remarks.
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 the Turkish border from Syria would be considered a threat.
A staunch opponent of the regime in Damascus, Turkey hosts more than 750,000 refugees from the three-year Syrian conflict, many of them in camps along the border.