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Tension between Ankara, Moscow mounts over downing of Russian jet

(Xinhua) Updated: 2015-11-24 22:42

Tension between Ankara, Moscow mounts over downing of Russian jet

A war plane crashing in flames in a mountainous area in northern Syria after it was shot down by Turkish fighter jets near the Turkish-Syrian border, is seen in this still image taken from video November 24, 2015.[Photo/Agencies]

ANKARA -- Tension between Turkey and Russia has escalated after Turkish war jets shot down a Russian military aircraft on border with Syria earlier on Tuesday.

According to a Turkish military statement, two Turkish F-16s shot down SU-24 airplane after repeatedly warning its pilots they were violating Turkish airspace for 10 times in a five minute period.

The statement did not identify the plane as Russian, but Turkish presidential sources said it was "believed to be a Russian."

However, Russia's defense ministry disputed that account, saying that an Su-24 was hit by an artillery fire from the ground and downed to Syrian territory, according to preliminary findings.

In any case, the incident may spark a new diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Russia, two neighbors that have been at odds over Syria since 2011.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry summoned Russian charge d'affaires in Ankara over violation of its air space by the Russian warplane which was shot down, a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told Xinhua.

It also carries a potential armed conflict between a NATO member Turkey and Russia because it is the first time a NATO member has hit a Russian military aircraft since the 1950s at the outset of the Cold War.

"Both countries should avoid escalating the situation," Yasar Yakis, Turkey's former foreign minister, said.

"If the armed conflict in Syria spills over ties between Turkey and Russia, all other areas will be negatively impacted from this," he warned.

The two pilots from the downed Russian aircraft were ejected from the plane and were captured by local opposition forces in Latakia province of Syria.

Earlier on Tuesday, rebels in northwestern Syria has posted an online video showing that one of the pilot is dead.

Sedat Laçiner, Turkish professor of international relations, said the incident may carry the potential of changing the balance in Syria.

"There will be no war declared over a downed jet but if the crisis is mismanaged, it may pave the way for the risk of a war," he cautioned.

Turkey, a strong opponent of Bashar al-Assad government and a staunch supporter of the opposition in Syria, has repeatedly warned against violations of its airspace by Russian and Syrian aircraft, saying that it will implement the rules of engagement.

The Turkish Air Force shot down a Syrian Air Force jet before.

In recent months, Turkish fighters jets have intercepted several Russian aircraft that flew close to Turkish airspace and harassment by radar locks were frequently observed.

Uluc Ozulker, a retired Turkish ambassador, said the situation is alarming because it means the Syrian conflict has escalated beyond Syria now.

"The Turkish and Russian ties have reached a critical era now," he noted, while downplaying the war scenarios over the incident.

On Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu ordered the Turkish Foreign Ministry to contact NATO, the UN and relevant countries about the downed plane.

Turkey has protested against Russia in recent weeks after Moscow launched an air campaign to shore up al-Assad's government in northern Syria. Russia said it has been targeting Islamic State (IS) militants close to Turkish border while Ankara accused Russia of killing civilians.

Mesut Ulker, a security expert, said Turkey needs to act with common sense and prevent the situation from spiraling out of control.

"Turkey has already been going through a difficult period during which the new government was not even formed yet. Therefore, we have to treat this carefully in this difficult times," he said.

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