ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — NATO ambassadors will discuss this week whether to respond to Syria’s downing of a Turkish jet in what Turkey insists was international airspace, although the likelihood of any military action by the alliance is low. The plane’s downing has further increased regional tensions over the conflict in Syria, where some 40 people were said to have died Sunday in new clashes between rebels and regime forces.
The jet’s wreckage was found in the Mediterranean at a depth of 4,265 feet, Turkish state media reported Sunday. The two pilots remain unaccounted for.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the jet was on a training flight to test Turkey’s radar capabilities, not spying on Syria. He said the plane mistakenly strayed into Syrian airspace Friday but was quickly warned to leave by Turkish authorities and was a mile inside international airspace when it was shot down off the coast of Latakia.
Syria insisted Saturday that the shooting was “not an attack” and that the aircraft had violated its airspace. But Turkish authorities say Syria didn’t warn the Turkish plane or send its own jets to confront it.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was expected to make a statement Tuesday and might announce some retaliatory steps.
Meantime, at the request of Turkey, NATO’s governing body will meet Tuesday to discuss the incident, said Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokeswoman. The consultations were called under Article 4 of NATO’s founding Washington Treaty.
“Under Article 4, any ally can request consultations whenever, in the opinion of any of them, their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened,” Ms. Lungescu said. The North Atlantic Council — the ambassadors of the 28 NATO countries — will decide whether to respond, she said.
The last time Article 4 was invoked was nine years ago — also by Turkey — after tensions with neighboring Iraq escalated. However, that case did not lead to the invocation of Article 5, which declares that an attack against any single NATO country shall be considered as an attack against them all.
Despite some opposition leaders’ calls for Western military intervention in Syria, the United States and allies have been hesitant to get involved in what could prove a protracted conflict, preferring the diplomatic route. Syrian allies Russia and China already have shielded Syria from U.N. sanctions and stridently oppose any military intervention.
It’s unlikely the downing of the Turkish plane will change those calculations, despite Ankara’s appeal for the NATO meeting.
In October 1989, two Syrian MiG-21s violated Turkish air space and shot down a Turkish plane on a geographical survey mission, killing all five crew members. Syria at the time promised to severely punish the pilots, who disregarded Turkish orders not to enter Turkish airspace.
Dogu Ergil, a professor of political science at Ankara University, told private NTV television that Turkey repeatedly had sent its jets across the Syrian border for several weeks to show its military muscle at the time.
The plane’s downing on Friday drew criticism from other countries pushing Syrian President Bashar Assad to end his crackdown on an increasingly armed popular uprising. Opposition activists say the conflict has killed 14,000 people, most of them civilians, over the past 15 months.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Sunday he was “gravely concerned by the Syrian regime’s action in shooting down” the plane.