Turkey forces Syrian plane to land

DAVID DISHNEAU
Last updated 07:45 11/10/2012

Turkey warns Syria that if shelling continues, "we will respond with greater force." Deborah Gembara reports.

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Turkish jets have forced a Syrian passenger plane to land at Ankara airport on suspicion that it may be carrying weapons, according to officials and news reports.

State-run TRT television said an Airbus A320 coming from Moscow was intercepted by F16 jets as it entered Turkish airspace and escorted to the capital's Esenboga Airport. The station said authorities grounded the plane on suspicion that it was carrying heavy weapons.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Selcuk Unal confirmed to the Associated Press that a Syrian plane was forced to land.

"We asked a Syrian civilian plane to land," he said in an email. "We are investigating."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, interviewed by Turkey's state-run TRT television in Athens, said that the plane was forced to land because of information that it may be carrying "certain equipment in breach of civil aviation rules."

The move comes amid heightened tensions between Turkey and Syria, which have been exchanging artillery fire across the volatile border in the past week.

Private NTV television said there were 35 passengers on board the plane.

Meanwhile, Turkish authorities declared the Syrian airspace to be unsafe and were stopping Turkish aircraft from flying over the civil-war torn country, the Foreign Ministry said.

TRT television said a Turkish plane that had already taken off for Saudi Arabia made a detour and landed at a Turkish airport.

Earlier Wednesday, Turkey's military chief vowed to respond with more force to any further shelling from Syria, keeping up the pressure on its southern neighbor a day after NATO said it stood ready to defend Turkey.

General Necdet Ozel was inspecting troops who have been put on alert along the 910-kilometre (566-mile) border with Syria after a week of cross-border artillery and mortar exchanges escalated tensions between the neighbors, sparking fears of a wider regional conflict.

Turkey has reinforced the border with artillery guns and also deployed more fighter jets to an air base close to the border region since shelling from Syria killed five Turkish civilians last week.

"We responded and if (the shelling) continues, we will respond with more force," the private Dogan news agency quoted Ozel as saying during a visit to the town of Akcakale.

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- AP

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