DAMASCUS, Syria, July 4 (UPI) -- The bodies of two pilots from the Turkish fighter plane shot down by Syrian forces were found in the Mediterranean Sea Wednesday, officials said.
Turkish military leaders said in a statement efforts had begun to remove the bodies of Capt. Gokhan Ertan and Lt. Hasan Huseyin Aksoy from sea floor, Today's Zaman reported.
The bodies were found by deep-sea exploration vessel EV Nautilus in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. The military, searching for them since the jet was downed June 22, this week launched a specially designed vessel to recover the plane's wreckage from about 3,300 feet below the surface.
Turkey has said the Turkish RF-4E Phantom, an unarmed aircraft, was hit in international airspace after it briefly strayed into Syrian airspace, but Syria said the plane was in Syrian airspace when it was shot down.
After the warplane was shot down more Turkish troops were deployed to the country's border with Syria.
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad said the Turkish government under Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has shifted from a friend in the region to directly interfering with Syria's sovereign business.
The Turkish government has "transgressed against the brotherly relations with Syria and started to interfere directly in Syrian affairs," which is unacceptable, Assad said in an interview with Cumhurieyt published Wednesday. "We are an independent country which respects itself and respects its sovereignty."
Thousands of Syrian civilians and military have fled to Turkey as the body count and the violence escalate in the popular uprising against Assad's regime that began in March 2011.
Assad said Turkey later began getting involved in Syria's violent events by supplying logistical support to the "terrorists who have been killing innocent people."
The Assad regime and state-run media have called protesters terrorists and thugs in explaining the violent crackdown in the country since the popular uprising began in March 2011. Erdogan is among the chorus of international voices that have called an end to the violence and condemn Syrian leaders.
The relationship between the two countries is tenuous at best, Assad said, because Erdogan "lost his credibility."
"Rebuilding these bridges depends on his ability to restore credibility on the Arab arena in general, not only in Syria, because this is not a personal issue," Assad said. "When he has the courage to stop and acknowledge his numerous mistakes at this stage, I don't think the people … will have a problem in forgiving him."
Also Wednesday, a forest fire in the Syrian province of Latakia crossed the border and spread into Turkey, Hurriyet reported.
The fire of unknown origin broke out near Kasab on the Syrian side of the border then spread quickly to Yayladagi in Turkey's southern Hatay province.