Turkish jets down unclaimed drone

Turkish jets shot down an unidentified drone that flew into Turkey’s airspace at the border with Syria, an incident that comes as Syrian troops under Russian air cover are pressing their offensive against rebels in central and northern Syria.

The drone was shot down after it ignored three warnings to leave, the Turkish military said, but didn’t specify how it had relayed the warnings to the operators of the drone. It said it was not immediately clear which country the aircraft belonged to.

Turkish foreign minister Feridun Sinirlioglu said the drone crashed 3km inside Turkish territory. “We have not been able to establish who the drone belongs to, but we are able to work on it because it fell inside Turkish territory,” he said.

Turkey earlier this month had complained about two incursions by Russian warplanes, which also drew strong condemnation from Turkey’s Nato allies. The US, Russia and the Syrian government all operate drones in the region.

Russia strongly denied ownership of the drone.

“I state with absolute responsibility that all our drones are either performing tasks or staying at the base,” colonel general Andrei Kartapolov of the Russian military’s General Staff said at a meeting with foreign military attaches in Moscow.

There was no immediate comment on the drone by the US embassy in Ankara. Seeking to soothe Turkey’s anger about the violation of its airspace by Russian aircraft, Moscow sent a high-level military delegation to discuss moves to prevent such incidents in the future.

“They apologised a few times, said it happened by accident and that they have taken measures so that it will not occur again,” Sinirlioglu said of the talks in Ankara with the visiting Russian military delegation.

Since 2013, Turkey has shot down a Syrian military jet, a helicopter and an unmanned surveillance drone that strayed into Turkish airspace.

Turkey has also reported numerous incidents of harassment of its F-16 jets patrolling the Syrian border, by Syrian fighter planes or Syria-based surface-to-air missile systems locking radar on them.

Syrian troops backed by Iranian and Hezbollah fighters on the ground and Russian planes in the air pressed ahead with an assault against rebels in central Syria and launched another offensive in the northern province of Aleppo yesterday, extending an ambitious campaign to recapture lost territory from armed fighters, activists and the government said.

The fighting is particularly intense in the central Homs province, where the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said around 60 people were killed in Russian airstrikes and fighting in Homs province.

The Local Co-ordination Committees, an activist network that follows the war, put the number at 57. The Russian military has rejected claims of civilian casualties, saying its planes haven’t targeted populated areas.


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