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Syrian Plane Routed from Moscow Forced to Land in Turkey, Give Up Arms Onboard

October 11, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JEFFREY BROWN: A diplomatic row between Russia and Turkey has erupted over the grounding of a plane in Turkish airspace.

Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER: Turkish military jets forced the Syrian passenger plane to land last night at Ankara, after it entered Turkish airspace en route from Moscow to Damascus.

Today, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government, acting on a tip, had found the plane was carrying Russian-made munitions and military gear to aid the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war.

RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Turkish Prime Minister (through translator): This was equipment and ammunition that was being sent from a Russian agency to the Defense Ministry of Syria. This equipment is now being examined. Something like this happening on a passenger plane is a violation of international flights.

MARGARET WARNER: Russian authorities had disputed earlier reports that military equipment was on board. And Moscow accused the Turks of endangering the roughly 30 crew and passengers, many of them Russian.

The plane was allowed to fly on to Damascus without the disputed cargo. But the Syrian transport minister condemned Turkey’s actions.

MAHMOUD SAID, Syrian Transport Minister (through translator): What happened could be described as Turkish aero-piracy against a civilian Syrian plane. They took with force a part of the shipment without giving any receipts. It’s a kind of provocation that reflects a Turkish political failure in its dealing with the Syrian issue.

MARGARET WARNER: The Turks have voiced repeated frustration that Russia, a major arms supplier to Syria, has blocked multiple efforts in the U.N. Security Council to sanction Damascus.

In Washington, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland left little doubt where the U.S. stands.

VICTORIA NULAND, State Department Spokeswoman: We strongly support the government of Turkey’s decision to inspect the plane. And while we would send you to them for more details on what they found, we’d be concerned by any effort to supply military equipment to the Assad regime, because it’s clearly being used by the regime against their own people.

MARGARET WARNER: All of this as tensions between Turkey and neighboring Syria have escalated sharply. Ankara has been leading demands for Syrian President Assad’s ouster.

Last week brought cross-border shelling after a Syrian mortar attack into Turkish territory. The Turks and the Syrian army have traded artillery volleys for several days since.