“Our air defences confronted a target that penetrated our air space over our territorial waters pre-afternoon on Friday and shot it down. It turned out to be a Turkish military plane,” a statement by the Syrian military said late last night.
The plane was coming from the west at a very low altitude and at high speed over territorial waters, so the Syrian anti-air defenses counteracted with anti-aircraft artillery, hitting it directly as it was 1 kilometer away from land, causing it to crash into Syrian territorial waters west of Om al-Tuyour village in Lattakia province, 10 kilometers from the beach, said a Syrian government spokesman.
Some parts of the jet have been found, said Turkish news agency AA. Ankara said that the jet entered Syria’s airspace by accident, and there are reports that the plane was photographing ‘Demetra‘, an ongoing military exercise in Cyprus waters. More precisely, according to the Cypriotic newspaper “Alitheia” a pair of RF-4 type aircraft of the Turkish Air Force around 11 – 11.30 in the morning of that day illegally flew over Cyprus. It was the time that units of the Cypriot National Guard participating in the annual major exercise ‘’Demetra’ left their camps and headed to dispersal areas. At that time the Turkish military entered the airspace of Cyprus and moved in such a way that the NG was confident that they intended to photograph the movements of its units. In this way they could get valuable information about possible moves or changes in plans since they could compare the movements made during this year’s exercise with those of previous years. Earlier another Turkish aircraft type CN 235, which is equipped with jamming and electronic surveillance systems, was also identified in the Cypriot airspace. At that time the officers of the General Staff gave strict orders for radio silence and activated protective anti jamming systems. Those who were in the field of the exercise little noticed, but those who were in the front of the radars at the headquarters and the Ministry of Defence realized that Turkey, particularly during this year, was persistent implementing its provocations previously announced. After noon, the pair of the Turkish RF-4s left Cyprus heading east, off Cape of Apostolos Andreas, towards the Syrian FIR.
Syria said that the plane was dealt with according to laws observed in such cases and that the two countries’ naval forces’ commands have established contact to search for the two missing pilots.
Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had held a two-hour long emergency meeting last night about the incident with his intelligence and military chiefs, threatened “decisive” retaliation.
“In the light of the information gathered and the findings of the joint search and rescue efforts with Syria, it is understood that our plane was downed by Syria,” his office said in a statement released around midnight.”
Mr Erdogan did not reveal what his country’s exact response will be.
“Turkey will determinedly take all necessary steps and will take its final position after the full examination of the incident,” the statement said.
The fate of the two pilots on the aircraft is not certain, as reports that they were rescued were conflicted by the statement that said “search and rescue efforts, assisted by Syrian vessels to locate the plane’s two missing pilots are continuing.”
Erdogan said the plane, which vanished off radar at 11:58 a.m Friday, went down in the Mediterranean Sea about 8 miles (13 kilometres) away from the Syrian town of Latakia. Latakia Port is 71 km away from Tartus Port, where Russia has a naval base.
According to a report on Sigma TV, the plane entered Cyprus airspace, was tracked by Israel and once it entered Syrian airspace, was shot down by a Russian S300 missile.
The report has not been verified by military sources in Russia or Syria, which buys its air defense systems from its ally Russia. The US has strongly criticised Russia’s policy of arming Syria government forces but Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he would not apologise or justify sending arms to Syria. The air defense systems can only be used to repel foreign aggression, not on protesters in Syria, said Lavrov.
The UN has called for both sides to handle the incident with restraint and through diplomatic channels, said a spokesman for the UN.