News Column

Syria Claims Capture of Turkish Pilots Infiltrating Syria

Jan. 4, 2013

Hurriyet website, Istanbul, in Turkish 4 Jan 13

Report by BBC Monitoring on 4 Jan 13

Amid the media war around the Syrian conflict, Syrian claims that it caught Turkish pilots trying to infiltrate a Syrian air base have gained unexpected momentum in the Turkish parliament. The Syrian claim comes only months after Damascus shot down a Turkish warplane off the Syrian coast last June.

Syria said it captured four Turkish pilots trying to infiltrate a Syrian air base in the north of the country on the last day of 2012. The allegation was immediately denied by the Turkish chief of general staff's office.

However, the issue took an unusual turn when an MP from the main opposition party presented a written question to the government in parliament. According to a report by the daily Hurriyet, one of the best-selling papers in Turkey, Lutfi Baydar from the People's Republican Party (CHP) submitted the motion. Hurriyet said Baydar claimed the number of pilots captured by Syria was actually 10 and he even gave what he said were the names and ranks of the pilots.

Syria's pro-government daily "Al-Watan" reported on 31 December 2012 that four Turkish pilots were captured trying to get into a Syrian air base near Aleppo. On the same day, the Turkish Chief of General Staff denied the allegation as "totally untrue". Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on January 4, "No Turkish soldier is under arrest in Syria."

Russia has until recently mostly been supportive of Assad's regime. Hurriyet's website said that the Voice of Russia radio had reported the story. As of 4 January, the story did feature on the Russian version of the radio station's website, and a report from 31 December 2012 could be found on the English version. The Voice of Russia report quoted a retired Syrian army general, whom it named as Muhammad Isa, as saying: "what is untrue is the number of the pilots. It is many more. It is a very serious situation... Their aim is being determined. They were possibly trying to seize Syrian fighter jets and bomb strategic targets within Syria. They may have planned to attack areas populated with civilians and then blame the Syrian government. Ankara may keep denying this information. But this is true."

Turkey fiercely opposes the Assad regime, and is suffering the consequences of the conflict. The number of Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria and taking shelter in Turkey has exceeded 150,000. Harsh winter conditions pose added challenges in sheltering them, not to mention the cost to the Turkish government.

Increasingly tense relations between Ankara and Damascus and continued shelling and bombing of border villages near Turkish- Syrian border by Syrian government forces have prompted Turkey to ask for NATO Patriot missile defence systems to be installed in Turkey, a process currently under way.

Turkish public opinion is strongly against military intervention.

Source: (C) 2013 BBC Monitoring European. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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