Turkey intercepts Syrian jetliner

Oct. 10, 2012 at 5:30 PM
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AKCAKALE, Turkey, Oct. 10 (UPI) -- Turkish military jets Wednesday intercepted a Syrian Air jetliner suspected of carrying weapons and forced it to land at an Ankara airport, officials said.

News channel CNNTurk reported while no arms or munitions were found, there were a dozen packages containing communications devices used for military purposes. Today's Zaman reported parts that could be used in missiles also were found aboard the plane.

Hurriyet Daily News reported Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said there had been solid intelligence indicating the Airbus A-320 was carrying illegal cargo in violation of international rules.

The airliner was en route from Moscow to Damascus, Syria, with 37 passengers and crew when it was intercepted about 6:30 p.m., Hurriyet said.

Today's Zaman said the plane was later sent to Damascus.

Earlier, Turkey's military chief warned Syria there will be a harsher response if Syrian shells continue to explode on Turkish soil.

Gen. Necdet Ozel made the comments during a visit Wednesday to the border town of Akcakale, where five Turkish civilians were killed by a Syrian shell last week Hurriyet said.

"Turkey already responded, and will respond even stronger," he told reporters, adding, "We are here, and we are standing tall."

Ozel also inspected troops deployed in other areas along the border with Syria, the newspaper said.

Following the fatal shelling last week, the Turkish Parliament approved the use of military force against Syria. Turkey bolstered its military presence along the border with Syria and has responded to Syrian shelling with artillery fire at least six times, the newspaper said.

A top NATO official said the organization is prepared to defend Turkey against Syria if the border conflict escalates.

"We have all plans in place to protect and defend Turkey, but we do hope that it will not be necessary," Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at NATO headquarters in Brussels after a meeting of NATO defense ministers.

"We do hope that all parties involved will do their utmost to avoid an escalation of the crisis and focus on finding a political solution to the conflict," Voice of America quoted Rasmussen as saying.

The organization includes a system of collective defense, with the 28 member states agreeing to mutual defense in response to an attack by any external party. Turkey is a NATO member.

The defense ministers did not discuss the Syrian crisis at the first day of a two-day meeting, Rasmussen told reporters.

In the past week, Syria and Turkey have exchanged artillery and mortar fire across Syria's northern border, which has been a crossing point for rebel fighters. The exchange of fire has raised political and diplomatic concerns the conflict will ignite a broader crisis in the region.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party Tuesday Ankara would keep retaliating for attacks from Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

"We shall never stop responding," he said as the cross-border artillery and mortar conflict was poised to enter its second week.

Ankara deployed 25 additional F-16 jet fighters to Turkey's Diyarbakir Air Base in the southeast, Hurriyet reported.

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