Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized Syria harshly on Tuesday for shooting down a Turkish fighter jet last week, saying: “Even if the plane was in their airspace for a few seconds, that is no excuse to attack.”
“It was clear that this plane was not an aggressive plane. Still it was shot down,” Erdogan said, arguing that Syrians should be ashamed of the attack.
The shooting down of the Phantom F-4 jet on Friday has raised tensions significantly between Turkey and Syria, two heavily armed regional powers.
NATO condemned it “in the strongest terms,” Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after the alliance met Tuesday at Turkey’s request.
Both sides say the jet strayed into Syrian airspace, but Turkey says the incursion was accidental and quickly corrected.
Rasmussen refused to comment on what intelligence Turkey had presented to NATO about the incident at the allliance’s headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
He called on Syria to “avoid such events in the future” and said he did not expect the situation to escalate.
NATO did not promise any action in response to the incident, and Turkey did not invoke the NATO article calling for collective defense of members, Rasmussen said.
The NATO consultations were held under Article 4 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s founding charter.
The article allows any member to call for consultations”whenever, in the opinion of any of them, their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened,” the charter says.
The United States and many other countries have been vocally opposed to military intervention in Syria and are unlikely to encourage Turkey to press the issue. After Syrian troops shelled refugees on the Turkish side of the border earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made clear that the bar was high for Turkey to claim the need for a collective self-defense.
Syria raised the stakes Monday in the war of words over the incident.
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said the plane was shot down in Syrian airspace, disputing Turkey’s claim that it was downed over international waters after briefly straying into Syrian airspace by mistake.
“What happened was a violation of Syrian airspace. Even Turkey says Syrian sovereignty was violated. Regardless of whether it was a training mission, a reconnaissance mission, it was a violation,” Makdissi said.
He insisted that Syria was the wronged party, not Turkey.
Also Monday, a spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry told CNN that Syria fired Friday on a second Turkish plane that was part of a search-and-rescue mission sent in after the jet was shot down. The plane, which entered Syrian airspace in search of the jet, was not hit, said Selcuk Unal.
“There was no injury, nobody was harmed. But that plane immediately returned to Turkish airspace. And through military diplomatic channels we informed them: ‘What’s going on?’ ” Unal said.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry said Sunday that it considered the shooting to be a hostile act. Turkey delivered the message in a diplomatic note to the Syrian consulate in Istanbul, Unal told CNN.
In addition to NATO, Turkey also submitted a letter about the incident to the U.N. Security Council. The country made no request for action, but outlined its version of events.
“This attack at the international airspace, causing possible loss of two Turkish pilots, is a hostile act by the Syrian authorities against Turkey’s national security. Thus, we strongly condemn it,” read the letter, dated Sunday.
It identified the downed plane as a Turkish RF-4 reconnaissance aircraft. It was flying alone, without arms, in international airspace when it was shot down, the letter read.
Turkish search-and-rescue teams found the wreckage of the jet in the Mediterranean Sea on Sunday, about 1,300 meters (4,260 feet) underwater, Foreign Ministry spokesman Unal said.