Syria: Assad Forms New Government Amid Jet Row

June 23rd, 20124:33 pm @


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3:30pm UK, Saturday June 23, 2012

Syrian President Bashar al Assad has reportedly formed a new government, two months after controversial parliamentary elections that were boycotted by the opposition.

Foreign minister Walid al Muallem will remain in his post, as will the defence and interior ministers. A number of new ministries have also been created, according to state television.

The move comes after Syria admitted shooting down a Turkish jet over the Mediterranean, raising tensions between the neighbouring countries.

The Syrian military claims the plane was flying low, less than a mile from the shore and well inside the country’s territorial waters when they opened fire on it.

Turkish military F4 jets

F4 fighter jets similar to the aircraft that went down

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said it was possible the jet had accidentally violated Syria’s airspace.

“It is routine for jet fighters to sometimes fly in and out over (national) borders … when you consider their speed over the sea,” he said.

“These are not ill-intentioned things but happen beyond control due to the jets’ speed.”

He added that Turkey would take “necessary” action against Syria. The country’s foreign minister already met with the chief of general staff, and a second security meeting is scheduled.

Reports said Turkey’s deputy prime ministerBulent Arinc told state TV the jet was a reconnaissance plane, rather than a war plane.

With the second biggest army in Nato, Turkey would be a formidable foe for a Syrian army that is already struggling to quash a 16-month-old revolt against the Assad regime.

Turkish and Syrian forces are conducting a joint search operation for the two missing crew of the aircraft.

Turkish rescue boats were pictured leaving port and heading towards the Syrian coastline.

Syria-Turkey border

Turkey lost contact with the plane when it was flying near the Syrian border

“Turkey will present its final stance after the incident has been fully brought to light and decisively take the necessary steps,” Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement.

The comments followed a two-hour emergency meeting between the prime minister, the chief of general staff, the defence, interior and foreign ministers, the head of national intelligence and the commander of the air force.

Turkish media had reported earlier that Syria had apologised for the incident but Mr Erdogan made no mention of any apology.

Violence raged unabated inside Syria, which appears to be sliding into a sectarian-tinged civil war pitting majority Sunni Muslims against Mr Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

Turkey fears the fighting, if unchecked, could unleash a flood of refugees over its own border and ignite regional sectarian conflict.

Ankara, which had drawn close to Syria before the uprising against Mr Assad, turned against the Syrian leader when he responded violently to pro-democracy protests inspired by popular upheavals elsewhere in the Arab world.

Turkey now gives refuge to the rebel Free Syrian Army on its frontier with Syria.

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