EU condemns Syria for shootdown, urges Turkish restraint

Monday, June 25, 2012

A regular conference of European Union foreign ministers in Luxembourg today issued condemnation of Syria's recent shootdown of a Turkish fighter jet, but also sought restraint from Turkey in its response.

A Turkish F-4 Phantom jet, from file.

Catherine Ashton, head of EU foreign policy, said the bloc is "very concerned" by the situation "and very concerned for the family of the two pilots who are missing". She speaks ahead of a NATO meeting called by Turkey under provisions allowing members to seek urgent talks if they perceive themselves under threat. Turkey is a NATO member, and an EU membership candidate.

The disputed incident saw a Turkish F-4 Phantom jet destroyed on Friday, with Syria claiming they were unaware of the aircraft's origin and merely defending themselves. The Turks claim the jet mistakenly entered Syrian airspace, but had left again after a warning and was in international airspace when it was attacked.

The EU has today announced fresh sanctions against Syria: Another person and six organisations were added to the EU's sanctions list, which now imposes asset freezes on 43 groups and over 100 people; the individuals also face travel bans. The growing list is in response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's violent suppression of an uprising against his rule. China and Russia consistently use their vetoes as permanent UN Security Council members to prevent calls for al-Assad to step down.

The UN puts deaths at the hands of Syrian government forces at 10,000; Syria attributes 2,600 government and security forces deaths to "terrorists" with foreign assistance. Turkey and the West are uncertain if removing al-Assad would simply make Syria even more fractured and volatile.

This plane was not carrying arms and was on a routine flight

—Laurent Fabius

Giulio Terzi, foreign minister of Italy, said the shootdown highlighted the need for an end to violence in the region and "illustrates how the Syrian crisis is escalating". His UK counterpart, William Hague, said "I don't think it illustrates a different phase" but agreed it was "important that we increase the pressure with additional sanctions". He predicts some nations "will be very active in arguing for a new resolution from the Security Council." Their French colleague, Laurent Fabius, said the destruction with "no prior warning" of an aircraft that "was not carrying arms and was on a routine flight" is "completely unacceptable."

A Turkish cabinet meeting is due today to examine the shootdown, with Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal telling al-Jazeera the attack was "a hostile act". Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been more measured in his response, and has avoided calling for military intervention.

"Military intervention in Syria is out of the question," according to Uri Rosenthal, foreign minster of the Netherlands, for either "the Dutch government... [or] in the... context of NATO." NATO's North Atlantic Council meets tomorrow to discuss Turkey's concerns, with any action needing unanimous approval from ambassadors representing all 28 member states.