BEIRUT

Middle East

Turkish jets force Syrian plane to land over suspicious cargo

ANKARA: A Syrian passenger plane was forced to land in Ankara on Wednesday evening on suspicions that it was carrying weapons, Anatolia news agency reported citing officials.

"We received information that the plane's cargo did not comply with rules of civil aviation," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted as saying by the agency.

Davutoglu noted that international law would apply if weapons were found on the Syrian aircraft, without elaborating further.

The plane carrying 35 passengers was escorted by two Turkish jets to Ankara's Esenboga Airport for security checks on its cargo by Turkish special operation units.

The A-320 plane was travelling from Moscow to Damascus when it was intercepted by Turkish authorities at around 1430 GMT, according to NTV news channel.

The search for weapons and ammunition is ongoing.

Ankara on Wednesday also warned Turkish airline companies against using Syrian airspace to avoid a possible retaliation from Damascus, NTV added.

After that warning, that a Turkish Airlines plane carrying Turkish pilgrims from the northwestern city of Bursa landed urgently in Adana city in the south, according to NTV.

The plane is waiting for Ankara's green light to take off again for its destination in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Tensions between Turkey and Syria have been running high, with sporadic fire exchanges at the border since last Wednesday.

Last week, a Syrian shell hit a Turkish border town, killing five civilians -- two women and three children.

The deadly incident triggered retaliation fire from Turkish artillery units at the border, which has been increasingly fortified by scores of anti-aircraft batteries and Howitzers since the shelling.

It also brought on a parliamentary mandate which is valid for one year and which allows the government to authorise cross-border operations in Syria, and to be used "if needed".

The Turkish army also warned earlier Wednesday of a stronger response if Syrian shells continued to land on Turkish soil.

Ties between Ankara and Damascus have been dramatically strained since June, when a Turkish jet was brought down by Syrian fire, killing its two pilots onboard.

 

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