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President Bashar al-Assad is quoted as saying he regrets “100 per cent” a Turkish jet was shot down after entering Syrian airspace.

In an interview with Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper, Bashar al-Assad argues that the plane was flying in an area previously used by Israel’s air force.

The plane went down in the Mediterranean last month and the two pilots have not been found.

The incident has heightened tensions between the two countries.

President Bashar al-Assad is quoted as saying he regrets "100 per cent" a Turkish jet was shot down after entering Syrian airspace

President Bashar al-Assad is quoted as saying he regrets "100 per cent" a Turkish jet was shot down after entering Syrian airspace

Last week, Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Syria’s action and described the neighboring country as a “clear and present threat”.

Turkey reinforced border areas with rocket-launchers and anti-aircraft guns.

On Sunday, Turkey said it had scrambled six F-16 fighter jets when Syrian helicopters had approached the border.

“We will not allow (the shooting down) to turn into open combat between the two countries,” President Bashar al-Assad is quoted as saying.

Cumhuriyet, which published the interview on Tuesday, does not indicate when it took place but shows a picture of Bashar al-Assad standing beside its Ankara bureau chief Utku Cakirozer.

In other developments:

• Turkish media reported late on Monday that another 85 Syrian soldiers, including 14 senior officers, had defected across the Turkish border. It is one of the biggest groups of army defections since the March 2011 uprising in Syria began.

• Syria has been accused of practicing a widespread policy of state-sanctioned torture, in a Human Rights Watch report . The group says it has identified at least 27 detention centres across Syria.

• UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said that both Syrian government forces and the opposition have been involved in operations that harmed civilians. She has appealed for further militarization of the conflict to be avoided at all costs.

 

Turkish army has scrambled six F-16 fighter jets near its border with Syria after Syrian helicopters came close to the border.

Six jets were sent to the area in response to three such incidents on Saturday, the statement said, adding that there was no violation of Turkish airspace.

Last month, Syrian forces shot down a Turkish jet in the border area.

The incident further strained already tense relations between former allies.

Turkey’s government has been outspoken in its condemnation of Syria’s response to the 16-month anti-government uprising, which has seen more than 30,000 Syrian refugees enter Turkey.

On Friday, Turkey said it had begun deploying rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns along the border in response to the downing of its F-4 Phantom jet on 22 June.

The move came after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that Turkey had changed its rules of military engagement and would now treat any Syrian military approaching the border as a threat.

Turkish army has scrambled six F-16 fighter jets near its border with Syria after Syrian helicopters came close to the border

Turkish army has scrambled six F-16 fighter jets near its border with Syria after Syrian helicopters came close to the border

Syria said the Turkish F-4 was shot down by air defence fire inside its airspace. Turkey insists it was downed by a missile after briefly entering and the leaving Syrian airspace.

The plane crashed in the Mediterranean, off the coast of the southern province of Hatay. Its pilots are still missing.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke of Turkey’s “rage” at the incident and described Syria as a “clear and present threat”.

NATO condemned the attack and voiced strong support for Turkey, after Ankara invoked Article 4 of NATO’s founding treaty, which entitles any member state to ask for consultations if it believes its security is threatened.

Four of the six jets were scrambled on Saturday from the airbase of Incirlik in response to two occasions of Syrian helicopters flying close to Hatay province, Sunday’s army statement said.

Later, two more F-16s took off from a base near Batman, in southeastern Turkey, after Syrian helicopters were spotted close to the province of Mardin, it added.

The military said the helicopters flew as close as 6.5 km (4 miles) to the border, according to the AP news agency.

The border incident comes after the UN and Arab League envoy on Syria, Kofi Annan, warned of the danger of the Syria conflict spilling over into the wider region if the bloodshed is not stopped.

He was addressing an international meeting of major international and regional powers in Geneva on Saturday, aimed at reviving the six-point peace plan for Syria brokered by Kofi Annan.

The countries present at the Geneva talks reached an agreement calling for a ceasefire and a transitional government in Syria.

Western demands to exclude President Bashar al-Assad and his allies from the interim administration reportedly foundered on opposition from Russia.

Moscow sees Syria as its closest ally in the region, and rejects any attempt to impose a solution on Syria from the outside.

The Paris-based opposition Syrian National Council rejected the Geneva deal as too ambiguous, according to the AP news agency.

Violence has worsened in Syria recently despite the cease-fire mediated by Kofi Annan as part of his six-point plan earlier this year.

On Friday, government forces recaptured the Damascus suburb of Douma – an opposition stronghold – after 10 days of artillery bombardment. Activists described conditions in the town as “catastrophic”.

Activists estimate that as many as 15,800 have died since the uprising began early last year. Casualties figures are difficult to verify, as Syria does not allow foreign journalists to operate on its territory.

The conflict is seen as becoming increasingly militarized, with both rebels and government forces thought to be receiving arms supplies from abroad.

 

 

Turkish government has called an emergency security meeting amid reports that one of its fighter jets was shot down by Syrian security forces.

The Turkish military earlier said it had lost contact with an F-4 Phantom over the Mediterranean Sea on Friday morning, south-west of Hatay province.

It did not confirm reports that Syrian air defense forces were responsible.

But local media are quoting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying “the other side has expressed regret”.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan also revealed that the two crew members were safe.

Turkish government has called an emergency security meeting amid reports that one of its fighter jets was shot down by Syrian security forces

Turkish government has called an emergency security meeting amid reports that one of its fighter jets was shot down by Syrian security forces

Relations between Turkey and Syria, once close allies, have deteriorated sharply since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.

The Turkish military said it lost radio contact with the F-4 at 11:58 local time on Friday while it was flying over Hatay, about 90 minutes after it took off from Erhac airbase in the province of Malatya, to the north-west.

“Search-and-rescue efforts have started immediately,” a statement said.

The private news channel, NTV, later cited unnamed military sources as saying that the plane had crashed off Hatay’s Mediterranean coast, in Syrian territorial waters, but that there had been no border violation.

The Turkish and Syrian coast guards were collaborating in the search for the two crew members and the plane, NTV reported.

Witnesses in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia meanwhile said Syrian air defenses had shot down an unidentified aircraft near the town of Ras al-Basit.

Lebanon’s al-Manar television channel – controlled by Lebanon’s Hezbollah Shia movement, an ally of the Syrian government – also reported that Syrian security sources had said that “Syrian air defenses shot down a Turkish warplane and hit another in Syrian airspace”.

There was no immediate confirmation from Turkish officials, but later it was announced that Recep Tayyip Erdogan would be holding an emergency meeting with his top military and intelligence chiefs to discuss the missing plane.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan was also said to have told Turkish reporters on a flight back from Brazil that “the other side have expressed regret” over the downing of the F-4, and also that the pilots had been recovered.

 

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The Pentagon has issued further safety procedures for F-22, its most advanced fighter jet, after pilots complained of oxygen shortages during flights.

The rules include limiting the distance F-22 planes can travel from airstrips.

Defence Secretary Leon Panetta did not rule out grounding the jets again if necessary.

The Air Force banned its F-22s from flying for four months last year to investigate the oxygen-deficit problem, but its cause remains unclear.

The Pentagon has issued further safety procedures for F-22 after pilots complained of oxygen shortages during flights

The Pentagon has issued further safety procedures for F-22 after pilots complained of oxygen shortages during flights

The Air Force has introduced more than a dozen pilot safety rules in the F-22, and says oxygen issues are very rare, but some pilots have refused to fly the aircraft.

The safety precautions announced on Tuesday mean the F-22 will have to abandon long-distance air patrol missions in Alaska, the Pentagon said. The jet has never been used in combat.

Leon Panetta has also asked for a back-up oxygen system to be put into the planes, with the first of these due to be installed in December.

“We haven’t determined the root cause,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.

“It could be something connected to the oxygen system.

“It could be other aspects of the aircraft that could contribute to hypoxia-like [oxygen-deprivation] events, whether it’s G-forces, the altitude at which the plane flies.”

Twelve hypoxia-related incidents, including dizzy spells and blackouts, have been reported between April 2008 and January 2011.

There are worries that new F-35 fighter jets, which are being developed by Lockheed Martin, could pose similar problems.

“I think it’s safe to say that everybody in leadership is concerned about this,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.

The F-35 will have many of the same features as the F-22, but cannot fly as high or as fast.