ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A plane intercepted by Turkish fighter jets on its way from Moscow to Damascus was carrying equipment and ammunition destined for the Syrian Defense Ministry, Turkey’s prime minister said yesterday.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments follow a fierce denial by Syria that anything illegal had been aboard the Airbus A320 that was forced by Turkey to land in Ankara late Wednesday. Syria, whose relations with neighboring Turkey have plummeted over the Syrian war, branded it an act of piracy.
Earlier in the day, Turkish officials had rejected claims by Syria’s ally, Russia, that Turkey had endangered the lives of Russian citizens on board the aircraft.
“These were equipment and ammunitions that were being sent from a Russian agency ... to the Syrian Defense Ministry,” Erdogan told reporters in Ankara.
“Their examination is continuing and the necessary (action) will follow,” he added.
Yeni Safak, a newspaper close to the Turkish government, reported yesterday that there were 10 containers aboard the plane, whose contents included radio receivers, antennas and equipment “thought to be missile parts.”
Turkish state-run television TRT also reported the plane was carrying military communications equipment. Neither TRT nor the newspaper cited sources for their claims.
A Western diplomat in Ankara told The Associated Press that Turkish authorities had found “military equipment” on board the plane, but did not elaborate. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about sensitive issues.
The plane was allowed to continue to Damascus after several hours, without the cargo.
“As you know, defense industry equipment or weapons, ammunitions and such equipment cannot be carried on passenger planes,” Erdogan said. “It is against international rules for such things to pass through our air space.”
Erdogan refused to say how — or from whom — Turkey had learned that the twice-weekly scheduled flight would be used to transport military gear to Syria.