Assad ‘regrets’ downing of plane
3 July 2012
Last updated at 03:30 ET
The Turkish F-4 plane went down in the Mediterranean and both pilots are missing
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is quoted as saying he regrets “100 per cent” a Turkish jet was shot down after entering Syrian airspace.
In an interview with Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper, he argues that the plane was flying in an area previously used by Israel’s air force.
The plane went down in the Mediterranean last month and the two pilots have not been found.
The incident has heightened tensions between the two countries.
Last week, Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Syria’s action and described the neighbouring country as a “clear and present threat”.
Turkey reinforced border areas with rocket-launchers and anti-aircraft guns.
On Sunday, Turkey said it had scrambled six F-16 fighter jets when Syrian helicopters had approached the border.
“We will not allow (the shooting down) to turn into open combat between the two countries,” President Assad is quoted as saying.
Cumhuriyet, which is said to have conducted the interview in Damascus on Sunday, shows a picture of Mr Assad standing beside its Ankara bureau chief Utku Cakirozer.
In other developments,
- Turkish media reported late on Monday that another 85 Syrian soldiers, including 14 senior officers, had defected across the Turkish border. It is one of the biggest groups of army defections since the March 2011 uprising in Syria began.
- Syria is practising a widespread policy of state-sanctioned torture, a Human Rights Watch report says. The group focuses on what it calls an “archipelago of torture centres”.
- UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said that both Syrian government forces and the opposition have been involved in operations that harmed civilians. She has appealed for further militarisation of the conflict to be avoided at all costs.
In the Turkish interview, Mr Assad appears to try to cool the border dispute, saying that Syria had not and would not bolster its military presence, regardless of the actions of Mr Erdogan’s government.
“We want to think of it as a pilot’s error and we would consider this an isolated incident, which shouldn’t be exaggerated,” the Syrian leader is reported as saying.
Cumhuriyet says that during the conversation, which lasted two-and-a-half hours, Mr Assad explains that the plane’s identity only became clear after it had been brought down.
“I say 100 percent ‘if only we had not shot it down,” he is quoted as saying.
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