World Bulletin / News Desk
A senior Turkish diplomat has rejected Russia's accusations that Turkey "endangered Russian lives" after forcing a Damascus-bound passenger plane on suspicions that it might be carrying weapons and military equipment.
In a written response to a question Thursday, Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Selcuk Unal said the pilot had refused to provide the flight manifest of the Syrian Arab Airlines plane, adding that Turkey was informed by the Russian Embassy that the passengers included Russian nationals just before the plane took off from Ankara's Esenboga Airport following the confiscation of the suspected cargo.
Unal said Turkish authorities provided regular flow of information to the Russian Embassy as soon as they were informed about the Russian passengers.
"Concerns that lives and security of the passengers were put in danger are unfounded," Unal said, adding that a team of paramedics and an ambulance were on stand-by in case of an emergency.
Earlier on Thursday, Russian Ambassador in Ankara Vladimir Ivanovsky was summoned to meet with Turkish diplomats at the Foreign Ministry headquarters.
The Syrian plane was forced to land while enroute to Damascus from Moscow with 37 passengers, 17 of whom a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson said were Russian nationals.
Turkish authorities confiscated part of the cargo aboard the Airbus A320 of the Syrian Arab Airlines for examination.
Turkey has yet to provide detailed information on what the contents of the confiscated cargo were but Turkish media reports have said the impounded cargo contained radio receivers, antennas and "equipment that are thought to be missile parts."
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the cargo contained "elements which are contrary to civilian aviation rules."
The grounding of the Syrian plane further escalated tensions between Turkey and its southern neighbor who have exchanged artillery and mortar fire since last Wednesday when a stray Syrian shell landed on Turkey's Akcakale town, killing two women and three children.
Turkey has been building up troops, tanks and anti-aircraft missiles along the Syrian border since the deadly
Syrian shelling as well as reinforcing war planes at a base in nearby Diyarbakir province.
The openings of bridges across the Bosphorus -- the first in 1973 and the second in 1988 -- have been landmark dates in the modern history of Istanbul.
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