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Turkey blames Syria for jet attack, consults NATO

25 June, 2012

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ANKARA: Turkey accused Syria on Sunday of shooting down a military reconnaissance jet in international airspace without warning and called a NATO meeting to discuss a response to Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

Amid growing acrimony between the once-friendly neighbours, Syria said its forces had shot dead "terrorists" infiltrating its territory from Turkey, which along with Western and Arab nations has backed the cause of Syrians fighting Assad.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the search for two missing pilots was still under way, in coordination with the Syrian authorities. He denied it was a "joint" operation.

He said the RF-4 Phantom jet had been clearly marked as Turkish and dismissed Syria's assertion it had not identified the aircraft before opening fire. Davutoglu said he also planned to set out Turkey's case at the United Nations Security Council where Western powers are seeking, against Russian and Chinese opposition, to push through a motion that could allow stronger measures against Assad.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the incident as "brazen and unacceptable" and vowed close US cooperation with Turkey to promote a political transition in Syria.

"The United States condemns this brazen and unacceptable act in the strongest possible terms," Clinton said in a statement following a conversation on Saturday with the Turkish foreign minister.

The shooting down of the Turkish F4 Phantom reconnaissance jet "is yet another reflection of the Syrian authorities' callous disregard for international norms, human life, and peace and security," Clinton added.

Moscow fears this might lead to military action that could undermine its interests in Syria.

What began as demonstrations against Assad developed last year into armed rebellion, tipping the country towards a sectarian civil war, with thousands already killed across Syria.

Syrian tanks and artillery shelled the eastern city of Deir al Zor on Sunday, killing at least 20 people in the second day of bombardment in the oil-producing region, amid heavy fighting with anti-Assad insurgents, opposition activists said.

End.

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