Syrian air defences “shot down” the Turkish jet fighter that went missing while on patrol near the border between the two countries on Friday, according to local television reports.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister claimed that Syria had apologised for shooting down the plane, according to Turkish media.
“Syria immediately offered a very serious apology for the incident and admitted it was a mistake”, Haberturk daily newspaper quoted Mr Erdogan as saying onboard a plane on the way to Turkey from Brazil.
Mr Erdogan also said the pilot and navigator had survived: “At this moment the air force and navy are conducting search and rescue operations … luckily our pilots are alive, we have just lost a plane.”
The incident prompted the calling of an emergency security meeting to be led later on Friday by Mr Erdogan and attended by top military and intelligence chiefs.
The F-4 Phantom, a fighter bomber with a pilot and navigator on board, disappeared over the Mediterranean. All radar and radio contact with the aircraft was lost shortly after it departed from Erhac air base in Turkey’s southern province of Malatya.
Turkey is a member of Nato, meaning that it could invoke Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty and summon the aid of all 28 countries in the alliance if it comes under attack. Turkey’s government is a strident critic of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and tension has risen along the land border between the two neighbours.
A series of shooting incidents has taken place across this frontier so far this year. The Free Syrian Army, a rebel alliance fighting to overthrow Mr Assad, has a strong presence inside Turkey. The Turkish air force, one of the strongest in the region, conducts regular patrols through the highly sensitive airspace near Syria.
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