BRUSSELS – Turkey’s prime minister, responding to the downing of a Turkish jet by Syrian forces, said Tuesday that Turkish military will respond to any future violation of its border by Syrian military elements.
“The rules of engagement of the Turkish Armed Forces have changed,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. “Any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria by posing a security risk and danger will be regarded as a threat and treated as a military target.”
Syria insists that the Turkish plane violated its air space on Friday. But Turkey says that although the unarmed RF-4E reconnaissance jet had unintentionally strayed into Syria’s air space, it was inside international airspace when it was brought down.
The head of the NATO military alliance called the downing of the jet unacceptable on Tuesday, shortly after Turkey briefed NATO’s North Atlantic Council in discussions held under Article 4 of NATO’s founding treaty, which allows a NATO member to request consultations if its security has been threatened.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance condemns it “in the strongest terms,” and expressed solidarity with Turkey, but made no mention of retaliatory action.
Erdogan said Syria shot down the unarmed plane in international airspace in a `deliberate’ and `hostile’ act and without warning. He said border violations in the region were not uncommon. He said Syrian helicopters violated Turkish airspace five times recently, without Turkish response.
“No one should be deceived by our cold blooded stance,” Erdogan said. “Our acting with common sense should not be perceived as a weakness.”
The downing of the jet has aggravated tense ties between the two neighbors. Turkey has repeatedly called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down as 33,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey, fleeing a government crackdown on a popular uprising.
Erdogan said as much as Turkey’s friendship is valuable, Turkey’s “wrath is as much violent and crushing.”
He said: “we will continue to be a burning torment for circles who have adopted a hostile attitude toward Turkey.”
The public anger in Turkey is largely muted and Huseyin Celik, a senior member of Erdogan’s ruling party, said the party grass-roots is against going to war.
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