BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (BNO NEWS) — The North Atlantic Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on Tuesday strongly condemned Syria’s shoot-down of a Turkish fighter jet last week, calling it an unacceptable act. It comes as the Turkish government is hardening its military position against its neighbor.
Ambassadors of all 28 NATO member states met on Tuesday after Turkey called for consultations under Article 4 of the Washington Treaty, which states any member state can request such a meeting whenever it believes its territorial integrity, political independence or security is being threatened.
“We consider this act to be unacceptable and condemn it in the strongest terms,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said following the meeting. “It is another example of the Syrian authorities’ disregard for international norms, peace and security, and human life. Our thoughts at this difficult time are with the missing Turkish aircrew, their families and their loved ones.”
Rasmussen said the military alliance is following the situation “closely and with great concern,” and said it will continue to monitor developments in the region. “And let me make this clear: the security of the Alliance is indivisible,” he warned. “We stand together with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity.”
Before Tuesday’s meeting, Turkish officials said they would push NATO to invoke Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which states that NATO member states will consider an attack against one or more NATO member states as an attack against them all. “We did not discuss Article 5,” Rasmussen said, declining to go into further details about the contents of the meeting.
Asked by reporters what would happen if a similar incident were to occur again, Rasmussen said he expects it will not. “It is my clear expectation that the situation won’t continue to escalate,” he said. “What we have seen is a completely unacceptable act and I would expect Syria to take all necessary steps to avoid such events in the future.”
The incident happened on late Friday morning when a Turkish RF-4E aircraft was flying over the Mediterranean Sea, southwest of Hatay province which borders Syria. The plane had left Erhaç airbase in Malatya province at 10:30 a.m. local time that morning and went missing at 11:58 a.m. local time.
The Turkish government has said its reconnaissance jet unintentionally strayed into Syrian airspace but was inside international airspace when it was shot down. The Syrian government has called these statements baseless and inaccurate, insisting that the aircraft was approximately 1 to 2 kilometers (0.6 to 1.2 mile) off the Syrian coast and approaching it with a speed of 800 kilometers (497 miles) per hour.
Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdessi provided more details of Syria’s account on Tuesday, explaining that the Turkish jet was brought down with a land-based anti-aircraft machine gun which has a maximum range of 2.5 kilometers (1.5 mile). He also said the wreckage showed holes in the tail-end of the plane, which he said confirmed that it had not been hit by missiles.
“Had the aircraft been over territorial waters, we would have used missiles, not a land-based anti-aircraft machine gun with a maximum range of 2.5 kilometers (1.5 mile),” Makdessi said. “All of this confirms the falsity of the allegations that the aircraft was shot down outside Syrian territorial waters.”
Turkish officials have also said its jet was shot down without being alerted, but the Syrian spokesman claimed the air defense systems operate automatically in such cases and that it would even target Syrian aircraft if they were unidentified. The spokesman said the machine gun, which fired 23 rounds, is not equipped with radar but operates based on a visual confirmation.
Also on Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said its military forces have changed the rules of engagement along its border with Syria. He said any military aircraft that approaches the Turkish border from Syria will be regarded as a treat and treated as a military target. He claimed Syrian helicopters violated Turkish airspace five times recently, without a response from Turkey.
It remains unclear whether the two pilots survived Friday’s crash, but Erdoğan previously rejected speculation that the crew members were captured by Syrian forces, saying there is no evidence of that. The wreckage was located in Syrian territorial waters west of Om al-Tuyour, a village in the northern province of Lattakia, with no sign of the crew members.