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Syrian jet forced to land


February 17. 2013 9:36AM


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ANKARA, Turkey — A plane intercepted by Turkish fighter jets on its way from Moscow to Damascus was carrying equipment and ammunition destined for the Syrian Defense Ministry, Turkey's prime minister said Thursday.


Recep Tayyip Erdogan's comments follow a fierce denial by Syria that anything illegal had been aboard the Airbus A320 that was forced by Turkey to land in Ankara late Wednesday. Syria, whose relations with neighboring Turkey have plummeted over the Syrian war, branded it an act of piracy.


Earlier in the day, Turkish officials had rejected claims by Syria's ally, Russia, that Turkey had endangered the lives of Russian citizens on board the aircraft.


"These were equipment and ammunitions that were being sent from a Russian agency ... to the Syrian Defense Ministry," Erdogan told reporters in Ankara.


"Their examination is continuing and the necessary (action) will follow," he added.


Yeni Safak, a newspaper close to the Turkish government, reported Thursday there were 10 containers aboard the plane, whose contents included radio receivers, antennas and equipment "thought to be missile parts."


Turkish state-run television TRT also reported the plane was carrying military communications equipment.


A Western diplomat in Ankara said Turkish authorities had found "military equipment" on board the plane, but did not elaborate.


The plane was allowed to continue to Damascus after several hours, without the cargo.


"Any transfer of any military equipment to the Syrian regime at this time is very concerning, and we look forward to hearing more from the Turkish side when they get to the bottom of what they found," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.


She declined to comment on Turkish reports that the intelligence on the plane's cargo had come from the United States.


Turkey has called for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down and Damascus accusing Turkey of supporting the rebels.




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