Russia Says Impounded Syrian Plane Had Radar Gear

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MOSCOW -- Russia's foreign minister said Friday that a civilian Syrian jetliner impounded by Turkey on suspicion of transporting Russian military cargo illicitly to Syria was carrying only electronic components for a radar station, and that such equipment fell within the bounds of international agreements.

"We have no secrets," the minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said in a televised statement. "We have studied the situation: there were no weapons on this airplane, of course, and there could not be. On the airplane there was cargo, which a legal Russian shipper sent via legal means to a legal customer."

Mr. Lavrov's statement was the most detailed public explanation yet from Russia in its dispute with Turkey over the Moscow-to-Damascus flight, which was intercepted by Turkish warplanes on Wednesday and forced to land in Ankara, where the 35 passengers and crew were forced to wait for hours. Turkish inspectors examined the aircraft and impounded what Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey described on Thursday as Russian munitions bound for Syria's Defense Ministry.

The plane was permitted to leave on Thursday but both Russia and Syria protested the Turkish actions, Russia demanded a further explanation and Syria said it would file a formal complaint with international aviation authorities.

Earlier Friday, Russia's Foreign Ministry said it had still not received the requested information from the Turks.

"We continue to insist on receiving this data and we hope the information will be presented in the near future," an unidentified official from the Foreign Ministry told Russia's Interfax news agency.

A Turkish diplomat told Interfax that Ankara was still investigating and would contact Russia when it finished the inquiry.

The dispute has escalated tensions between Turkey, a NATO member, and Russia, the major arms supplier to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, whose government is fighting a 19-month-old uprising that has turned into a civil war. The fighting has shown no sign of easing and raised fears of destabilizing the Middle East, as hundreds of thousands of refugees have spilled into neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

Turkey's leaders, who were once close to Mr. Assad, have turned against him and are major backers of the insurgents, who have operated from Turkey and secured swathes of Syrian territory along the 550-mile Turkish border.

On Friday, the Turkish military scrambled two warplanes to patrol an area in Hatay province near the northern Syrian village of Azmarin after a Syrian helicopter gunship menaced the area, residents on the Turkish side of the border said. Syrian insurgents have been engaging with loyalist forces near Azmarin for days.

Elsewhere in Syria on Friday, the Local Coordination Committees, an anti-Assad group, said insurgents of the Free Syrian Army had captured 256 Syrian soldiers in Jisr al-Shoghour, a hilly rural area of Idlib province, and had sworn an oath to treat them as prisoners of war. Unidentified rebels quoted by Reuters said some of the prisoners were poor conscripts and had been released.

There were also numerous but unverifiable reports of fighting along a strategic north-south highway, as well as in the embattled city of Aleppo, its southern suburbs and in Homs, the central city that has been periodically pounded by Syrian artillery forces for the past eight months.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in its latest update released on Friday that nearly 341,000 Syrians are registered or awaiting registration in the region surrounding Syria.

Ellen Barry reported from Moscow, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Hatay, Turkey, and Hwaida Saad from Beirut, Lebanon.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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