Ankara pledged support for the Syrian rebels, and warned that any Syrian troops approaching Turkish borders would be considered a threat and dealt with as a military target.
The statements came from Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, who was addressing the national parliament. He was explaining how his government was dealing with last week’s downing of a Turkish warplane by Syrian troops, after the aircraft violated the country’s airspace.
Erdogan lashed out at Syria, saying it poses threat to Turkey’s national security, calling Syrian government tyrants. He accused Syrian officials of acting hostile after the incident happened.
He reiterated an earlier assessment that the plane was downed after leaving Syrian airspace, saying Turkey has proof of it. Syria insists the plane was still in its territory when its air defense forces engaged it, citing the fact that it was shot down by an artillery gun with a maximum range of 2.5 kilometers rather than a longer-range surface-to-air missile.
The Turkish Prime Minister said Syrian helicopters violated Turkish airspace five times recently, saying the Turkish response to those incidents was different. Syria said last Friday’s violation of its airspace was one in a string of similar incidents from Turkish aircraft.
Erdogan further accused Damascus of undermining the UN-brokered peace plan, which failed to provide a lasting ceasefire in the country. He also pledged that Turkey will provide “all possible support to liberate the Syrians from dictatorship” of the Bashar al-Assad government.
NATO condemns jet downing, downplays incident
NATO members have gathered Tuesday to discuss the downing incident. The alliance’s Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen condemned Syria’s actions, calling the shooting down of the Turkish plane “unacceptable”. He pledged NATO support to its member Turkey.
Rasmussen said he expected Syria to withhold from similar actions in the future, but tried to downplay the tension, saying that if it happens, NATO would “monitor the situation” rather than threaten a military response.
He also said that Article 5 of the NATO Charter, which demands that an attack on one member of the alliance is treated as an attack on all its members, was not invoked at the meeting.
NATO’s meeting was called by Turkey under Article 4 of the charter, which enables a member to call on allies, should it consider its territorial integrity or national security threatened. In the past such consultations were called only once in 2003 to discuss the Iraq war, again at the request of Ankara.