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This Syrian passenger plane was forced by Turkish jets to land at Esenboga airport
ANKARA, Turkey--Turkish jets on Wednesday forced a Syrian passenger plane to land at an Ankara airport on suspicion that it might be carrying weapons, Turkey's foreign minister said, amid heightened tensions between Turkey and Syria that have sparked fears of a wider regional conflict.
A Syrian Air Airbus A320 coming from Moscow was intercepted by F16 jets as it entered Turkish airspace and escorted to the capital's Esenboga Airport, the state-run TRT television reported.
"There are civil aviation rules, planes are required to make clear statements [concerning their cargo]," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in an interview with Turkey's TGRT television from Athens. The interview was also shown on TRT. "We received information that it was carrying certain equipment in breach of civil aviation rules."
"Should the information [received by authorities] turn out to be true, then whatever is required by international law will be done," he added.
The head of Turkey's civil aviation agency Bilal Eksi said there were 37 passengers and crew on board the plane. According to Moscow's Vnukovo airport, flight RB442 left for Damascus at 3:26 p.m. Moscow time. It wasn't immediately clear whether this was the plane that was intercepted.
Davutoglu said the passengers were being treated "hospitably" and given meals while the plane's cargo was being inspected.
Officials in the Syrian information and foreign ministries could not immediately be reached for comment.
Davutoglu also said Turkish authorities had declared Syria's airspace to be unsafe and were stopping Turkish aircraft from flying over the civil-war-torn country.
The move comes as tensions Turkey and Syria are running high. The countries, which were once close allies, have been exchanging artillery fire across the volatile border for days.
Earlier Wednesday, Turkey's military chief vowed to respond with more force to any further shelling from Syria, keeping up the pressure on its southern neighbor a day after NATO said it stood ready to defend Turkey.
Gen. Necdet Ozel was inspecting troops who have been put on alert along the 566-mile border after shelling from Syria killed five civilians in a Turkish border town last week. Turkey has reinforced the border with artillery guns and also deployed more fighter jets to an air base close to the border region.
"We responded and if [the shelling] continues, we will respond with more force," the private Dogan news agency quoted Ozel as saying during a visit to the town of Akcakale.