Claims that a Turkish jet shot down a Syrian helicopter violating its airspace yesterday, were countered by a Syrian state TV report, which said that it was a surveillance drone that had been shot down.
Military officials told Turkish daily ‘Hürriyet’ that a Turkish F-16 from Incirlik airbase in Adana, shot down the Syrian aircraft with two Sidewinder air-to-air missiles on 16th May.
However, it was not immediately clear what kind of aircraft was shot down. “The area is being searched for the downed aircraft. It will soon be seen if it was a plane or a helicopter,” the source said.
Turkish locals told daily Hürriyet that a Syrian military plane violated the Turkish border twice in the Dursunlu-Emek area of the southern border province of Hatay. They added that the aircraft fell into the Syrian side of the border in three pieces.
In the evening, Turkish Defence Minister İsmet Yılmaz said a Syrian helicopter that entered Turkish airspace shortly after 2 p.m. (1100 GMT) and flew seven miles inside, over a period of five minutes, was fired upon and shot down.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu later confirmed that the aircraft was a helicopter.
“It is an important incident for Turkey to show its decisiveness,” Davutoğlu said, adding that the move was in accordance to Turkey’s rules of engagement. “I hope that the message is taken and nobody will ever dare to violate our borders.”
The May 16 incident was not the first time that the two countries’ air forces have engaged militarily.
A Turkish F-4 Phantom warplane crashed into the Mediterranean on June 22, 2012, after being shot down by Syria.
On Sept 16, 2013, the Turkish Air Force shot down a Syrian helicopter at the border after it reportedly violated Turkey’s airspace.
Turkish fighter jets also downed a Syrian jet on March 23, 2014, after it crossed into Turkish airspace, a week before local elections.
Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Secretary General Gürsel Tekin had claimed earlier this month that Turkey was planning to launch a military operation in Syria ahead of the June 7 general elections. Turkish government officials strenuously denied the claim last week.
NATO member Turkey shares a 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria and has been outspoken in its hostility to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Al-Assad has said Turkish support was a key factor in helping militant Islamist insurgents seize the north-western Syrian city of Idlib earlier this year.
Turkey denies that allegation and any suggestion it has delivered arms to Islamist militants fighting to overthrow al-Assad.