World Bulletin / News Desk
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that a Syrian plane intercepted on its way from Moscow to Damascus was carrying ammunition to Syria.
The ammunition was sent by a Russian corporation similar to Turkey's Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation (MKE) to Syrian defense ministry, Erdogan said at a joint press conference with Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Ankara.
Erdogan said that carrying the equipment belonging to the defense industry by passenger planes was forbidden in accordance with civil aviation rules.
"Relavant units are examining the equipment," he said.
Erdogan declined to give the source of the intelligence obtained by Turkey on the presence of non-civilian cargo on the plane.
He also dismissed claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin delayed an upcoming visit to Turkey due to the incident. Erdogan said he and Putin held a phone conversation four days ago and the date of the visit was finally determined by officials from the Turkish Foreign Ministry and their Russian counterparts.
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.