Syria accused Turkey late Monday of exacerbating tensions between the two countries by shooting down a Syrian military helicopter which had entered Turkish airspace.
A statement issued by the Syrian Army said that the helicopter was returning to its base and not engaged in any mission.
The statement, published by the state-run SANA media outlet, charged that Turkey’s hasty response proves that the true intent of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is to escalate the situation between the two countries.
According to Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, the Syrian helicopter strayed 2 kilometers into Turkish airspace on Monday. He said it crashed inside Syria after being hit by missiles fired from a Turkish jet.
Arinc said he did not have any information on the fate of the Syrian pilots, but Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said rebel fighters captured one of the pilots, while the fate of the other one was unclear.
Turkey has been at odds with the Syrian government since early in the country’s civil war and has backed the Syrian rebels, while advocating international intervention in the conflict.
Arinc noted that the Turkish military had put its forces on a higher state of alert and changed the rules for engaging with the Syrian military along the border because of “constant harassment fire from the other side.”
He also noted that a Turkish jet was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft over the Mediterranean in June 2012. Turkey says it was hit in international airspace, but Syria insists it was flying low inside Syrian airspace.
Shells from the Syrian conflict have occasionally rained down on the Turkish side of the border, and Erdogan has warned Damascus that his country would not tolerate any violation of the border by Syrian forces.