October 11, 2012 - 18:54 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Moscow accused Ankara of endangering Russian lives on Thursday, October 11 after Turkey forced a Syrian passenger plane to land and seized what it suspected was military equipment being ferried from Russia to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Reuters said.
Damascus said intercepting the Syrian Air plane was an act of piracy, further heightening tensions between the neighbors after Turkey's chief of staff warned Ankara would use greater force if shells from Syria continued to hit Turkish territory.
The grounding of the plane was another sign of Ankara's growing assertiveness over the crisis in Syria following almost a week of retaliation by its armed forces to gunfire and shelling spilling across the border.
"Turkey has crossed a new threshold," said former Turkish diplomat Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Centre for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies think-tank.
"With the action they took last week the government is in the slightly more comfortable position of having shown it has the strength to retaliate."
Military jets escorted the Damascus-bound Airbus A-320, which was carrying around 30 passengers from Moscow, into Ankara airport late on Wednesday after Turkey received intelligence that it was carrying "non-civilian cargo".
Russia, which has stood behind Assad's government during an 18-month-old uprising that has killed some 30,000 people, angrily demanded an explanation.
"The lives and safety of the passengers were placed under threat", the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that 17 of its nationals onboard were refused access to Russian diplomatic staff.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had been expected to visit Turkey at the start of next week but Turkish officials said hours before the plane was grounded that Russia had requested the visit be postponed, citing his heavy work schedule.
None of the plane's passengers were arrested and officials did not say what was confiscated. Turkish media said the cargo included non-lethal military supplies such as radio equipment.
Syrian Air chief Ghaida Abdulatif told reporters in Damascus the plane was carrying civilian electrical equipment that was allowed to be transported and had been officially registered.
Lebanon's al-Manar Television quoted Syrian Transport Minister Mahmoud Said as saying the move amounted to "air piracy which contradicts civil aviation treaties."