Russia expressed a thinly veiled protest on Thursday at the grounding by Turkish authorities of a Moscow-Damascus passenger jet over accusations it was carrying “illegal cargo”.
Turkish F-16 fighter jets forced down the Syrian Air Airbus A320 some three hours after it had taken off from Moscow’s Vnukovo international airport. Turkey eventually permitted the A320 to resume its flight after a five-hour inspection of the aircraft that resulted in the seizure of a number of items.
“There is illegal cargo on the plane that should have been reported,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told national media.
He did not say if weapons had been found, but Turkish media reported that military communication equipment had been removed from the plane.
“We are concerned that the life and security of the passengers, including 17 Russian nationals, was endangered,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on Thursday.
He said Turkey had not informed Russia that its nationals were on board and that Russian embassy officials and doctors had been denied access to the plane
“Russia insists on an explanation of such behavior with regard to the Russian nationals and demands that measures be taken to prevent any such incidents happening in the future,” he said.
Moscow has repeatedly blocked international sanctions against the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over what it says is a pro-rebel bias. Tens of thousands of people have killed been since the outbreak of civil war in Syria in March 2011, according to opposition groups.
Russia has insisted that its ongoing arms deliveries to Syria are in accordance with international law.
Syrian Ambassador to Moscow Riad Haddad visited the Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday.
Syrian authorities on Thursday demanded that Turkey returned the seized cargo.
“There were no weapons or any prohibited cargo on board,” said the Syrian Foreign Ministry. “These hostile actions by the Turkish authorities are further evidence of the aggressive policy by the Turkish government.”
The ministry also accused Ankara of “training terrorists, sheltering them, and sending them to Syria.”
Tensions between Turkey and Syria boiled over late last Wednesday when a mortar round apparently fired from Syria killed five civilians in the Turkish border town of Akcakale.
Turkey responded with artillery strikes against targets in violence-wracked Syria and the Turkish parliament authorized the government to order more strikes as necessary.
Although Damascus apologized for the incident, Turkish and Syrian artillery exchanged fire a number of times over the ensuing six days.
Syria responded to the grounding of the plane in Ankara by ordering its Air Force to intercept any Turkish planes in its airspace, the Lebanese newspaper Addiyar reported.