Passengers report abuse as Turkey intercepts Syria jet

A Syrian passenger plane which was forced to land sits at Esenboga airport in Ankara October 10, 2012. Turkey scrambled fighter planes to force a Syrian passenger plane en route from Moscow to land in Ankara on Wednesday and banned Turkish civilian aircraft from flying in Syrian airspace, state-run TRT television said. REUTERS/Cem Oksuz/Anadolu Agency

Published Thursday, October 11, 2012

Passengers inside a Syrian plane intercepted by Turkish jets Thursday told Russia Today security forces forced the crew and passengers to sign papers suggesting the plane made an emergency landing and that no Turkish military were part of the incident.

“Four people onboard have been beaten up, two crew and two passengers, as they tried to force them to sign documents,” Sherin Azis, a flight attendant told RT by phone.

“If we do not agree to these terms, they will take the captain kind of hostage,” Fatima al-Salman, a passenger and mother of three told RT.

“They started unloading some packages. They opened them, took pictures. There were many people. We all saw what was in there. There were no weapons. You could see it with an untrained eye,” she added.

Turkey forced the passenger plane from Moscow to land in Ankara, reportedly suspecting it was carrying weapons, adding to tensions between the two neighbors and prompting Russian and Syrian demands for answers.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey seized "objectionable cargo" from the the plane which it intercepted en route from Moscow to Damascus on Wednesday.

Anatolia news agency quoted officials as saying they suspected the aircraft was carrying arms.

"There is illegal cargo on the plane that should have been reported" in line with civil aviation regulations, Davutoglu was quoted as saying by Anatolia.

"There are elements on board that can be considered objectionable," he said, adding that Turkey would hold on to the cargo for further investigation but declining to elaborate on the contents.

Syria's transport minister accused Turkey of "air piracy which contradicts civil aviation treaties", Lebanon's al-Manar Television reported.

Russia demanded that Turkey explain its interception, saying that Ankara had put the lives of passengers at risk by forcing it to land in the Turkish capital.

"We are concerned that this emergency situation put at risk the lives and safety of passengers, who included 17 Russian citizens," a statement by Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said.

"The Russian side continues to insist on an explanation of the reasons for such actions by the Turkish authorities toward Russian citizens and to take measures to exclude such incidents in the future," it said.

The foreign ministry also listed a number of what it saw as serious shortcomings by the Turkish authorities in their handling of the incident.

"The Turkish side did not inform the Russian embassy in Ankara that there are Russian citizens among the detained plane's passengers," the statement said.

"We found out about this from news websites."

The embassy "demanded from Turkish authorities to allow access to Russian citizens. Consulate employees and a doctor were sent to the airport. However Turkish authorities denied the diplomats a meeting with our compatriots, without an explanation," the statement said.

The Russian passengers had to spend eight hours on the plane without food and were not permitted to go inside the airport, only to rarely exit the plane and go down to the landing strip, the statement said.

According to Turkey's Anatolia news agency, the plane was allowed to leave at 2330 GMT, nine hours after it was intercepted, with all of its 35 passengers on board.

Tensions have been running high between Ankara and Damascus since the eruption of the conflict in Syria and were inflamed after a series of shell strikes from Syria on Turkish soil, including one attack that left five civilians dead last week.

The plane was allowed to leave at 2330 GMT, nine hours after it was intercepted, with all of its 35 passengers on board, Anatolia said.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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