Turkey downs drone near Syrian border

BEIRUT — Turkish warplanes downed an unidentified drone Friday near its border with Syria, officials said, marking the latest incident of hostile fire in the region’s increasingly tense airspace.

Russia, which sent military aircraft into Syria last month, denied that any of its air fleet in Syria has been hit. But the United States suspected that Turkish planes targeted a Russian drone, the Reuters news agency reported, citing a U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity.

The “aerial vehicle” was warned three times to turn back before being fired on by Turkish jets patrolling the border, the Turkish military said in a statement without giving further details on the craft or its national origins.

Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu said the drone had crossed nearly two miles over the frontier, and some of the wreckage was examined. The United States, Russia and Syria operate drones in the border region.

In Moscow, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said that no Russian aircraft had been shot down.

“All the airplanes of the Russian aviation group in the Syrian Arab Republic have returned … after accomplishing their combat tasks,” said the spokesman, Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov.

He said that Russian unmanned aerial craft were “monitoring” Syrian skies and terrain, and all functioning as normal.

In Lebanon, the pro-Syrian Al-Mayadeen TV quoted a Syrian military official as saying that no Syrian or Russian warplanes or drones were shot down over Turkey.

Since 2013, Turkey has downed a Syrian military jet, a helicopter and a surveillance drone that crossed into Turkish airspace. The tougher stance was taken after Syrian ground fire brought down a Turkish F-4 Phantom II fighter jet in 2o12, a year after the outbreak of Syria’s multi-faction war.

NATO-member Turkey, a strong backer of rebels seeking to topple Assad, has claimed Russian aircraft has strayed into its airspace on at least two occasions in recent weeks. NATO has strongly criticized the reported incursions.

The United States, which is leading separate airstrikes against the Islamic State, has raised concerns about possible inadvertent encounters between the two nations in the skies over Syria. Defense Secretary Ash Carter earlier this month called on Russia to act in a “safe and professional manner” and respect Turkish sovereignty.

“Our aircraft performing patrol duty on the border fired and shot down the aircraft,” the Turkish military statement said. Turkey had acted “within the rules of engagement.”

In attempts to ease friction with Turkey over previous warplane incursions, a high-level military delegation held talks in Ankara on Thursday.

“They apologized a few times, said it happened by accident and that they have taken measures so that it will not occur again,” Sinirlioglu, the foreign minister, said following the meetings, the Reuters news agency reported.

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