ISTANBUL (AP) — Turkish forces shot down a Syrian helicopter after it crossed into Turkish airspace, the country’s defense minister said Saturday. Syrian state-run television denied the report, saying that a small drone was shot down.
Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz told state-run Anadolu Agency that the helicopter was brought down Saturday after it crossed at Cilvegozu, near the southern Turkish city of Reyhanli. The helicopter had been in Turkish airspace for five minutes and was shot down after it had made it seven miles into Turkey, officials said.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking on Star TV according to Anadolu, said the helicopter was given a warning but was shot after it remained in Turkish airspace. He said the helicopter then crashed inside Syria.
“I congratulate our armed forces which properly carried out their duty and showed the Syrian forces the necessary reaction. I embrace all of our pilots,” Yilmaz said. He rebutted the Syrian claims, saying he has seen information that the aircraft was a helicopter. Turkish media reported that jets took off from a base in the southern city of Adana to intercept the aircraft.
It was not immediately clear if anyone was injured in the incident.
Davutoglu, in the midst of an election campaign, said Turkey would always respond if its borders are violated.
“I hope that the message has been received and that no one will dare to violate our borders again,” he said on television.
Davutoglu said because of mist it was initially thought that the aircraft was a drone.
The incident is the second time since last year that Turkey has brought down a Syrian aircraft. In March 2014, Turkish fighter jets shot down a Syrian war plane, an incident the Syrian government called a blatant aggression.
Turkey, a NATO member that once enjoyed good ties with Syria, has emerged as one of the strongest critics of Syrian President Bashar Assad and is backing rebels trying to remove him from power.
Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed to this report.
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