Update at 5:33 p.m. ET. Prime Minister Pins Blame On Syria:
After meeting with his security team, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement that “it was understood” a military warplane that crashed into the Mediterranean Sea was shot down by Syria, Al Arabiya reports.
The prime minister’s office added that Turkey will take all “the necessary measures ‘decisively’ once all the details of the incident emerge.”
Turkey has joined the west in calling for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad. This incident is bound to strain relations further.
Our Original Post Continues:
Turkish news agencies say a Turkish military warplane crashed into the Mediterranean Sea today off the southern province of Hatay.
Two pilots were said to be aboard, and there are conflicting reports whether they’ve been rescued or not. The Hurriyet Daily News says both crewmembers were picked up and are in good health. But others, such as Andalou, say only search and rescue operations are underway.
What’s puzzling is how the crew came to plunge into the ocean. Turkey’s Hatay province borders Syria and both regions lie next to the sea. There is one unconfirmed report from the BBC‘s Arabic news service citing Syrian eyewitnesses who claim the Turkish jet was shot down, possibly by Syrian air defenses. There’s been no word from Turkish authorities on why the plane went down.
The search started immediately after authorities lost contact with the crew, according to CNN‘s Turkish news service, which reports the F-4 fighter plane came down in international waters about eight miles away from Syrian territorial waters.
Syrian authorities might feel jumpy about any warplane flying near its border. As Mark wrote yesterday, a Syrian fighter pilot flew his jet to neighboring Jordan and defected. Syria wants its jet back.
As internal warfare worsens in Syria, thousands of Syrians are running into Turkey to escape the fighting. Turkey expressed its outrage at massacres suffered by Syrian civilians, and last month kicked all Syrian diplomats out of the country. Today, the Turkish foreign ministry insisted it’s not supplying weapons to Syrian rebels, notes the Anadolu news agency.