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Russia says Syria plane carried radar equipment

On the airplane there was cargo, which a legal Russian shipper sent via legal means to a legal customer

By Ellen Barry and Rick Gladstone | Reuters | 13 Oct 2012

Russia’s foreign minister said Friday that a civilian Syrian jetliner impounded by Turkey on suspicion of transporting Russian military cargo illicitly to Syria was carrying only electronic components for a radar station, and that such equipment fell within the bounds of international agreements.

“We have no secrets,” the minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said in a televised statement. “We have studied the situation: there were no weapons on this airplane, of course, and there could not be. On the airplane there was cargo, which a legal Russian shipper sent via legal means to a legal customer.”

Mr. Lavrov’s statement was the most detailed public explanation yet from Russia in its dispute with Turkey over the Moscow-to-Damascus flight, which was intercepted by Turkish warplanes on Wednesday and forced to land in Ankara, where the passengers and crew members were forced to wait for hours. Turkish inspectors examined the aircraft and impounded what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan described on Thursday as Russian munitions bound for Syria’s Defense Ministry.

The plane was permitted to leave on Thursday, but Russia and Syria protested the Turkish actions. Russia demanded a further explanation, and Syria said it would file a formal complaint with international aviation authorities.

Earlier on Friday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had not received the requested information from Turkey.

“We continue to insist on receiving this data, and we hope the information will be presented in the near future,” an official at the Foreign Ministry told the news agency Interfax.

A Turkish diplomat told Interfax that officials were still investigating and would contact Russia when they finished the inquiry.

The dispute has escalated tensions between Turkey, a NATO member, and Russia, the major arms supplier to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whose government is fighting a 19-month-old uprising that has turned into a civil war. The fighting has shown no sign of easing and has raised fears that the Middle East will be destabilized, as hundreds of thousands of refugees have spilled into Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

Turkey’s leaders, who were once close to Mr. Assad, have turned against him and are major backers of the insurgents, who have operated from Turkey and have secured swaths of Syrian territory along the Turkish border.

On Friday, the Turkish military scrambled two warplanes to patrol an area in Hatay Province near the northern Syrian village of Azmerin after a Syrian helicopter gunship menaced the area, residents on the Turkish side of the border said. Syrian insurgents have been engaging with loyalist forces near Azmerin for days.

Elsewhere in Syria on Friday, the Local Coordination Committees, an anti-Assad group, said insurgents of the Free Syrian Army had captured 256 Syrian soldiers in Jisr al-Shughour, a hilly rural area of Idlib Province, and had vowed to treat them as prisoners of war. Unidentified rebels quoted by Reuters said some of the prisoners were poor conscripts and had been released.

There were also numerous but unverifiable reports of fighting along a strategic north-south highway, as well as in the embattled city of Aleppo, in its southern suburbs and in Homs.


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