Turkey’s rift with Moscow deepens over forced landing of Syrian jet

ELLEN BARRY, ANNE BARNARD & SEBNEM ARSU

Tensions over Turkey's forced landing and inspection of a Moscow-to-Damascus flight by a civilian Syrian jetliner expanded on Thursday to Russia, which accused the Turks of conducting an illegal search and denied their contention that the plane had been carrying military cargo bound for Syria.

Syria also reacted for the first time to the disrupted flight of the Syria Air jetliner, which landed under Turkish warplane escort in Ankara on Wednesday and stayed there for hours before the Turkish authorities allowed it to proceed. Syrian officials quoted by SANA, the official news agency, called the Turkish action illegal, accused the Turks of mistreating the crew and frightening passengers, and said Syria would protest the incident to international aviation authorities.

The forced landing not only aggravated the already-tense confrontation between Turkey and Syria but risked dragging in Russia, the main political and military ally of Syria's embattled President Bashar al-Assad.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the plane, which carried 35 passengers, had been detained on suspicion of harbouring weapons and later announced that a number of unspecified cargo items "that infringed on international regulations" had been confiscated. Turkish news reports said they were missile components.

On Thursday, Moscow expressed dismay at the Turkish action and denied that there were weapons or other military supplies aboard. "I think that tension will now develop in the relationship between Russia and Turkey," a Russian Foreign Ministry official said.

Moscow's complaints were quickly rejected by Turkey's Foreign Ministry, which summoned the Russian ambassador and said the Turks had acted properly and treated the passengers responsibly, Turkey's semiofficial Anatolian News Agency reported.

Russia and Turkey are already at odds over the Syrian crisis, with Ankara joining the Western and many Arab nations in support of insurgents seeking to overthrow Assad, while Moscow has consistently shielded Assad, its main regional ally.

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