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Saturday, June 23, 2012 - Page updated at 08:30 p.m.
Turkish fighter jet shot down
By Liz Sly
The Washington Post
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Turkey vowed to take "necessary steps" after concluding Syria had shot down a Turkish fighter jet along the Syrian border Friday, sending tensions soaring in the already fraught region.
In a statement issued early Saturday after an emergency security meeting summoned by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish government said an F-4 fighter jet that disappeared over the southern Turkish province of Hatay had been brought down by Syria. The statement said Turkey "will make its final position known once the evidence is uncovered and will determinedly take necessary steps."
The Turkish military said Friday it had lost contact with the plane shortly before noon. A hunt was under way in the eastern Mediterranean for the two missing pilots, and Syrian vessels were helping with the search, Erdogan said earlier in the evening.
The episode was most dramatic escalation in tensions between the countries, allies before the Syrian revolt began in March 2011. Turkey has become one of the strongest critics of the Syrian regime's brutal response to the country's uprising, and many fear the Syrian conflict will draw in neighbors.
Compounding the tensions, Turkey has emerged as the main conduit for weaponry now flowing to Syrian rebels with funds from Saudi Arabia and Qatar and facilitated, in part, by the U.S.
The Turkish government's statement capped a day of unconfirmed reports that Syria was responsible for bringing the plane down and had apologized. Al-Manar, the TV network run by Lebanon's pro-Syrian Hezbollah movement, quoted Syrian "security sources" in Damascus as saying the fighter jet had been shot down, and Turkey's state news agency Anatolia quoted Erdogan as saying Syria had apologized.
But Erdogan told reporters he could not confirm the apology.
Nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees have flooded into southern Turkey in the past year, and leaders of the rebel Free Syrian Army are housed at one of the refugee camps.
In the Syrian provinces of Idlib and Latakia, rebels have been waging pitched battles with the Syrian army as it seeks to recover territory that had fallen out of government control.
The disappearance of the Turkish plane came a day after a Syrian pilot flew his MiG-21 fighter jet to Jordan and requested political asylum, the first such defection since the uprising began. The defection was an embarrassment for Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and is likely to have led to increased vigilance around Syria's borders.
Meanwhile, violence continued in Syria on Friday, with the opposition Local Coordination Committees reporting 55 deaths nationwide. Among them were at least eight people shot dead while staging an anti-government protest in the northern city of Aleppo, a long-standing focus of such demonstrations.
In addition, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the discovery of the bodies of 25 men in one of the rural areas of Aleppo province that are falling out of government control. They apparently had been executed in a mass killing by rebel forces, the Observatory said.
Syria's state news agency SANA also reported the deaths, saying "armed terrorists" had committed a "brutal massacre" in the Daret Azzeh area of Aleppo.
Washington Post correspondent Suzan Haidamous contributed to this report. Information from The Associated Press also is included.
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