The head of NATO sharply criticized Syria for shooting down a Turkish warplane Tuesday, saying that such actions are not acceptable, but he did not say the 28-nation bloc would take any punitive action against Damascus.
Turkey requested the NATO meeting after its F-4 fighter jet was shot down in international airspace. Ankara admitted the plane had briefly strayed into Syrian territory, but that is not where it was when it was shot down. Turkey also accused Syria of firing at one of its rescue planes that was dispatched to find the downed pilots.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, has the support of the coalition.
“We consider this act to be unacceptable and condemn it in the strongest terms,” Rasmussen said, according to a video feed of his speech in Brussels. “It is another example of the Syrian authorities’ disregard for international norms, peace, security, and human life.”
The head NATO chief warned Syria not to shoot down any other alliance planes, but did not mention what concrete action would be taken now or in the event of a future attack.
“I would certainly expect that such an incident won’t happen again,” Rasmussen said. If anything does, he continued, NATO allies would consult over what should be done.
Turkey called for the meeting invoking NATO’s Article 4, which a member can use if it feels under threat, saying Syria committed an act of aggression since it issued no warning before shooting the plane down.
Rasmussen indicated that the alliance did not discuss Article 5, under which an act of war on one member is considered an act against all members.
The incident highlights the massive rift between Syria and Turkey, which were once stalwart allies before the 16 months of violence in Syria derailed diplomatic ties.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had been hoping for a stronger NATO reaction, said his country’s military will respond to any future violations of its sovereignty.
“The rules of engagement of the Turkish armed forces have changed,” Erdogan said, according to Al-Jazeera. “Any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria by posing a security risk and danger will be regarded as a threat and treated as a military target.”
Turkey has said the plane was on a routine flight and had no special mission before it was shot down, while Syria has said the plane’s presence violated its sovereignty.
Ankara has repeatedly called on President Bashar Assad to step down from power over his regime’s crackdown on civilians. Approximately 33,000 Syrian civilians have fled to Turkey during the unrest.
On Tuesday, White House spokesperson Jay Carney said the United States “commend[s] Turkey for its measured response thus far,” according to a transcript.
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