A Turkish newspaper said Syrian President Bashar Assad, speaking in an exclusive interview, has regretted the shooting down of a Turkish jet by his forces.
Cumhuriyet newspaper on Tuesday published first remarks from an interview with Assad in Damascus on Sunday. The paper quoted Assad as saying: “I say, 100 percent, I wish we did not shoot it down.”
Reuters reported that Assad said he might have been happy if it had been an Israeli plane, not a Turkish one, that was shot down. He said further that he would not allow tensions with Turkey to develop into open warfare.
“We will not allow it to turn into an armed conflict that would harm both countries,” he said. “We did not build up our forces on the Turkish border and we will not.”
He said Syria “would have apologized” for the shooting if the plane had not been shot down in Syrian airspace. He said the rise of tensions could have been prevented if channels of communication between the two militaries remained open.
“We are in a state of war, so every unidentified plane is an enemy plane,” the paper quoted Assad as saying. “Let me state it again: we did not have the slightest idea about its identity when we shot it down.”
Turkey said Syrian forces downed its jet in international airspace after it briefly strayed into Syrian airspace June 22. Assad insists the plane was inside Syrian airspace and flying in a corridor that had been used by Israeli planes three times in the past.
Turkey responded by deploying anti-aircraft missiles on the Syrian border, and has scrambled its jets several times after it said its border was approached by Syrian helicopters.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zubi claimed last week that the Syrian soldiers who shot down the Turkish jet may have confused it for an Israeli plane. “Turkish planes and Israeli planes look alike,” the minister told the Turkish news station A Haber.
Al-Zubi also noted that the “Zionist country” was in the area, and that the Syrian military is on alert for Israeli aircraft.
“If an Israeli plane enters Syria, it is welcomed by fire. [The Turkish plane] might have been believed to be an Israeli plane; we did not want to take down a Turkish plane,” he said.
Commenting for the first time on a U.N.-brokered plan for a political transition in Syria that was adopted by world powers at a conference in Geneva on Saturday, Assad said he was “pleased” that the decision about Syria’s future was left to its people.
The plan calls for the creation of a transitional government with full executive powers in Syria. But at Russia’s insistence, the compromise left the door open to Assad being part of the interim administration and left its composition entirely up to the “mutual consent” of the Assad administration and its opponents.
“The Syrian people will decide on everything,” Assad said.