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A Turkish fighter jet crashed into the sea off the Syrian coast on Friday in an event that cast a spotlight on the increasing tension between the two neighbours.
The Turkish military said the jet went missing at midday over the sea south-west of the Turkish border province of Hatay. The two pilots were subsequently reported rescued.
A Lebanese television station affiliated with the Hizbollah militant group – an ally of Damascus – said Syrian forces had shot down the aircraft. But Ankara did not initially attribute any blame for the crash.
The Turkish foreign ministry was not immediately able to respond to questions about any possible Syrian link. But BBC Arabic said it had been told by people in the Syrian port of Latakia, which is near Hatay, that the country’s air defences had shot down an unidentified aircraft flying nearby.
Any bilateral incident between Turkey and Syria would come at a time of deep tension between the two former allies.
The number of Syrian refugees on Turkish soil has reached 32,000, with Kristalina Georgieva, European commissioner for humanitarian affairs, telling the Financial Times in an interview this week the total jumped by 5,000 people in a matter of days.
“What worried me most is the speed with which the number of refugees is increasing,” she said, noting that much of the burden is falling on Turkey. “Conditions in Syria are going from bad to terrible.”
Turkish authorities have also denied claims by Syrian opposition members that Ankara is helping arms shipments from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar cross over the border to rebels in Syria.
Although Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, is one of the most vocal international voices calling for the departure of Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, Ankara has been wary of taking any overt unilateral action against Syria, partly out of fear of a bilateral military confrontation.
Turkey has also warned Damascus not to allow the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), which the US, the EU and Ankara all categorise as a terrorist group, to launch attacks from its territories.
But after a PKK attack on a Turkish military outpost near the Iraqi border left some eight soldiers dead, some Turkish media reported that the assault was led by a PKK militant who is also a Syrian national.