President Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday Turkey did not want any escalation after it shot down a Russian fighter jet, saying it had acted simply to defend its own security and the “rights of our brothers” in Syria.
Speaking at a business event in Istanbul, Erdogan said the jet had been fired at while in Turkish air space but had crashed inside Syria, although some parts of the plane landed in Turkey and injured two Turkish citizens.
“We have no intention of escalating this incident. We are only defending our own security and the rights of our brothers,” Erdogan said, adding Turkey’s policy in Syria would not change.
“We will continue our humanitarian efforts on both sides of the (Syrian) border. We are determined to take all necessary measures to prevent a new wave of immigration.”
The shooting down of the Russian warplane near the Syrian border Nov. 24 was one of the most serious publicly-acknowledged clashes between a NATO member country and Russia for half a century.
Both pilots in the plane bailed out once they were hit. The Russian Defence Ministry said one had been shot dead from the ground as he parachuted down, but that one was safe and had returned to Russia’s air base in western Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin confirmed the second pilot was alive, adding both will receive bravery awards.
“He (the second pilot) was saved, the pilot navigator. I believe he is already at our base, at the air base, and he – like all the others involved in the operation, including the rescue operation, will receive state awards. The Ministry of Defence has already come up with this proposal and the plane commander will be awarded with the Star of the Hero of the Russian Federation posthumously.”
Russian forces launched heavy bombardment against insurgent-held areas in Syria’s Latakia province on Wednesday, near where the Russian warplane had been shot down, rebels and a monitoring group said.
A Turkmen commander said missiles fired from Russian warships in the Mediterranean were also hitting the area, as well as heavy artillery shelling.
Hassan Haj Ali, the head of Liwa Suqour al-Jabal, a rebel group operating in western Syria, also said there were fierce battles in the area, with Russian aircraft supporting pro-government forces.
The part of Turkish-Syrian border near where the incident happened remained calm on Wednesday morning.
Putin said the plane had been attacked when it was 1 km (0.62 mile) inside Syria and warned of “serious consequences” for what he termed a stab in the back administered by “the accomplices of terrorists”.
He said Turkey’s political leaders had been encouraging the Islamisation of Turkish society, something he said was a problem.
“What can you do? After such tragic events like the destruction of our aircraft and the death of the pilot, it is a necessary measure and the foreign minister is correct to warn our citizens about the dangers,” Putin said.
“The problem is not the tragedy we witnessed yesterday. The problem is much deeper. We observe – and not only us, I assure you – the whole world is seeing that the current Turkish leadership over a significant number of years has been pursuing a deliberate domestic policy of supporting the Islamisation of their country.”
A U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday that Washington believed the jet was hit inside Syrian air space after a brief incursion into Turkey, an assessment based on detection of the heat signature of the aircraft.
But Turkey, in a letter to the U.N. Security Council, said it shot down the jet in its air space. Along with a second plane, the aircraft flew more than a mile into Turkey for 17 seconds despite being warned 10 times while approaching to change direction, the letter said.
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem on Wednesday offered his government’s support to Russia and accused Turkey of sponsoring militant groups fighting in Syria.
“Regretfully, these efforts to get rid of Daesh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State), Nusra Front and al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Syria have angered Turkish authorities,” Moualem told Russian parliamentary deputies.
“We stand in solidarity with our friends in Russia in relation to the jet incident,” Moualem added.
“At the same time, it has been revealed to the whole world Erdogan’s sponsorship of terrorist groups in Syria,” the Syrian foreign minister said.
Senior Turkish officials have in the past vehemently denied accusations Turkey has in any way supported the radical Islamist group.
The government said it is doing its best to combat cross-border fuel smuggling, and that it has been able to curb the trade.
Compiled from Reuters wire reports