Turkey ‘shoots down Russian warplane on Syria border’
The Turkish military has reportedly shot down a Russian military aircraft on the border with Syria.
Russia’s defence ministry said an Su-24 had crashed on Syrian territory after being hit by fire from the ground.
But Turkish military officials said Turkish F-16s had shot down the plane after repeatedly warning its two crew they were violating Turkish airspace.
The crew ejected before the jet crashed in Latakia province, but Syrian rebels said at least one was dead.
It is the first time a Russian aircraft has crashed in Syria since Moscow launched air strikes against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad in late September.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the incident as “very serious”, but cautioned that it was too early to draw conclusions.
The Nato military alliance, to which Turkey belongs, said it was following the situation “closely” and was in contact with the Turkish authorities. There will be an “informational meeting” of ambassadors in Brussels at 16:00 GMT.
‘Exclusively above Syria’
The Russian defence ministry confirmed on Tuesday morning that a Russian Su-24 had “crashed on Syrian territory, having been hit from the ground” while it was flying at an altitude of 6,000m (19,685ft).
“Efforts are being made to ascertain what happened to the pilots. According to preliminary reports, the pilots have managed to self-eject,” the ministry was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
The ministry stressed that “throughout its flight, the aircraft remained exclusively above Syrian territory”, adding: “Objective monitoring data shows it.”
However, the Turkish military said two F-16s on patrol had fired on an unidentified aircraft at 09:24 (07:24 GMT) after warning it 10 times over five minutes about violating Turkish airspace over the town of Yayladagi, in Hatay province.
It noted that the F-16s had intervened “in accordance with the rules of engagement”, which were changed after Syria shot down a Turkish plane in 2012.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the jet had crashed in the mountainous Jabal Turkmen area of Latakia, where air strikes and fighting between rebels and Syrian government forces had been reported earlier on Tuesday.
Russian military helicopters searched for the pilot and navigator near the crash site in the predominantly Turkmen Bayir Bucak area, Turkey’s Dogan news agency reported.
A spokesman for a rebel group operating in the area, the 10th Brigade of the Coast, told the Associated Press that the jet’s crew had tried to parachute into government-held territory, but that they came under fire from members of the group.
One of them was dead when he landed on the ground, he added. The fate of the second was not immediately known.
A video was posted online showing gunmen standing around a man in a flight suit who was immobile on the ground, either badly wounded or dead.
Russian aircraft have flown hundreds of sorties over northern Syria since September. Moscow says they have targeted only “terrorists”, but activists say its strikes have mainly hit Western-backed rebel groups.
Turkey, a vehement opponent of Syria’s president, has warned against violations of its airspace by Russian and Syrian aircraft.
Last month, Ankara said Turkish F-16s had intercepted a Russian jet that crossed its border and two Turkish jets had been harassed by an unidentified Mig-29.
The Turkish foreign ministry also summoned the Russian ambassador last week to warn him that there would be “serious consequences” if the Russian air force did not immediately stop bombing “civilian Turkmen villages” in Bayir Bucak.
In a separate development on Tuesday, three Russian journalists were lightly wounded on Monday while driving in a convoy towards the Syrian government army frontline near Dagmashliya, in north-western Syria. Their vehicles came under fire, apparently from TOW anti-tank missiles.
Russian media named them as Tass correspondent Alexander Yelistratov, Russia Today Arabic Service TV correspondent Sargon Khadaya and RT English correspondent Roman Kosarev. BBC