ISTANBUL, Turkey, Nov. 24 (UPI) ─ The Turkish military downed a Russian-made warplane near the Syrian border Tuesday after Turkey said it violated its airspace near Syria, a move that could aggravate the situation in a region already fraught with tension.
Russian and Turkish officials remain in dispute about the circumstances behind the downing. Russian officials said the SU-24 fighter jet had been shot down near Syria’s border with Turkey, but said the aircraft was over Syrian territory and has the data to prove it. Russia said the plane was brought down by shelling from the ground.
Turkey said the jet was warned 10 times in a span of five minutes over the airspace and shot down by two F-16s. The pilots were seen ejecting from the plane before it crashed. It is unclear what happened to the pilot, but some reports say they landed in an area north of Latakia, Syria, an area controlled by rebel fighters.
Already, there is heightened tensions in Syria’s crowded airspace with U.S., Russia, France, Turkey, Israel and others directly or indirectly involved in the Syrian war. A U.S-led coalition is conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State militant group operating in the country, while Russian’ planes have also been targeting Syrian rebels fighting against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The incident could ramp up the friction between the West and Russia since Turkey is a NATO member. The NATO military alliances said it is watching the situation “closely” and was in contact with Turkey.