Last Updated: Thu Oct 11, 2012 11:46 am (KSA) 08:46 am (GMT)

Syrian minister accuses Turkey of ‘air piracy’: TV

A Syrian passenger plane which was forced to land sits at Esenboga airport in Ankara October 10, 2012. (Reuters)
A Syrian passenger plane which was forced to land sits at Esenboga airport in Ankara October 10, 2012. (Reuters)

Syria’s transport minister accused Turkey on Thursday of “air piracy” after Turkish fighter planes forced down a Syrian passenger jet flying from Russia to Damascus, Lebanon's al-Manar Television reported.

The channel quoted minister Mahoumd Said as saying the move amounted to “air piracy which contradicts civil aviation treaties.” Turkish officials said they suspected the plane was carrying military equipment, and seized some of the cargo.

Syria has also stopped purchasing electricity from neighboring Turkey, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz told reporters on Thursday.

“Syria halted their power purchases from Turkey one week ago,” Yildiz said, adding however that Turkey was ready to resume supplies if a request was received. Turkey was providing 20 percent of Syria’s power supply.

It is not clear if Turkey’s forcing down the Syrian passenger jet was the reason.

Ankara warned Damascus in June it was considering cutting power to northern Syria after one of its fighter jets was shot down by Syrian fire.

Turkey and Syria were once close political allies but Ankara has become a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime since the launch of a brutal crackdown on dissent in March last year.

In November, Turkey halted joint oil exploration with its neighbor and also threatened then to cut electricity supplies.

Russia demands explanation

Meanwhile, Russia is demanding an explanation from Turkish authorities, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

The ministry said that Turkish authorities refused to grant Russian diplomatic staff access to 17 Russian citizens on board during the eight hours that the flight was held up because of suspicions the aircraft was carrying military equipment.

“The Russian side is insisting on an explanation of the reasons for such actions by the Turkish authorities,” the statement said. It said that “the lives and safety of the passengers were placed under threat” by the incident.

Arms exporting source

Moscow on Thursday accused Ankara of endangering Russian lives after Turkish fighter jets intercepted a Syrian airplane on route from Moscow to Damascus which Russia’s arms exports agency said was not carrying any of its cargo.

“We had no cargo on that airplane. We always deliver our weapons in full compliance with international norms,” said Vyacheslav Davidenko, spokesman for Russia’s monopoly arms exporter Rosoboronexport.

“Sending weapons on a passenger airplane breaks about every law there is on weapons exports,” he said.

Russia is a key Syrian ally and major arms supplier to the country.

Turkey on Wednesday stopped a Syria-bound passenger plane with 35 people on board, including 17 Russian nationals, on the suspicion that its cargo contained weapons and ammunition.

“There is illegal cargo on the plane that should have been reported” in line with civil aviation regulations, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.

“There are elements on board that can be considered objectionable,” he added, without elaborating.

The plane was allowed to leave Ankara at 2330 GMT, 9 hours after it was intercepted, with all of its 35 passengers on board, but its cargo has been seized, Anatolia said.

The confiscated cargo is believed to be missile parts, NTV news channel reported, while state-run TRT channel speculated it could be communications equipment headed for Damascus.

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