|Assad: We won’t let Syria-Turkey tension deteriorate into war||
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he regrets the fact that a Turkish jet was shot down by the Syrian military and that he will not allow the tension between the two neighbors to deteriorate into an "armed conflict."
Syria downed a Turkish RF-4E warplane on June 22. Syria says it attacked the aircraft after it flew very low inside its airspace, while Turkey says the jet was hit in international airspace after it briefly strayed into Syria.
In an interview with the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet published on Tuesday, Assad offered no apology, insisting that the plane was shot down over Syria and that the Syrian forces acted in self-defense, The Associated Press reported.
He said that the plane was flying in a corridor inside Syrian airspace that had been used by Israeli planes in 2007, when they bombed a building under construction in northern Syria. The UN nuclear agency has said that the building was a nearly finished reactor meant to produce plutonium.
"The plane was using the same corridor used by Israeli planes three times in the past," Assad told Cumhuriyet. "Soldiers shot it down because we did not see it on our radars and we were not informed about it."
Assad said: "I say 100 percent, I wish we did not shoot it down."
He said Syria had no intention of fueling tensions along its border with NATO-member Turkey.
"We will not allow it to turn into an armed conflict that would harm both countries," he said. "We did not build up our forces on the Turkish border and we will not."
Assad said Syria "would have apologized" for the shooting if the plane had not been shot down in Syrian airspace. He said the rise of tensions could have been prevented if channels of communication between the two militaries remained open.
"We are in a state of war, so every unidentified plane is an enemy plane," the paper quoted Assad as saying. "Let me state it again: We did not have the slightest idea about its identity when we shot it down."
Turkey, however, has insisted that the plane's electronic signals, which indicate if an aircraft is friend or foe, were activated during the entire flight and that Turkey even intercepted radio conversations in which Syrian forces referred to the plane.
Commenting for the first time on a UN-brokered plan for a political transition in Syria that was adopted by world powers at a conference in Geneva on Saturday, Assad said he was "pleased" that the decision about Syria's future was left to its people.
The plan calls for the creation of a transitional government with full executive powers in Syria. But at Russia's insistence, the compromise left the door open to Assad being part of the interim administration and left its composition entirely up to the "mutual consent" of the Assad administration and its opponents.
"The Syrian people will decide on everything," Assad said.
Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper, citing intelligence sources, reported early last week that Syrian forces referred to the plane using the word for "neighbor" in an intercepted radio conversation.
Turkey also insisted that the plane was not spying on Syria but just testing Turkey's radar capabilities.
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|Last Updated on 03 July 2012 17:00|