Tensions with Turkey simmer as Assad retains old guardAgence France-Presse . Damascus
Turkey on Saturday played down the loss of a warplane to Syrian air defences as the president, Bashar al-Assad, announced a new government with key posts unchanged and at least 30 people were killed nationwide.
NATO member Ankara said early on Saturday one of its jets may have violated Syrian airspace, after Damascus confirmed shooting down the F-4 Phantom, in comments seen as a bid to cool the latest spat between the former allies.
‘An unidentified aerial target violated Syrian airspace, coming from the west at a very low altitude and at high speed over territorial waters,’ a Syrian military spokesman told the official SANA news agency.
Anti-aircraft batteries hit the plane about a kilometre from the coast and it crashed some 10 kilometres off Latakia province, he added.
The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, said it was not unusual for warplanes flying at high speed to cross maritime borders, stressing that such actions were not ‘ill-intentioned.’
Naval forces from both nations were searching for the two missing crew.
Key Turkish ministers were meeting to discuss future steps, a foreign ministry diplomat told AFP, after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara ‘will announce its final position and take necessary steps with determination after the incident is entirely clarified.’
Meanwhile, Assad announced the formation of a new government with the key foreign, defence and interior ministry portfolios unchanged, as violence continued to rage across the country.
The announcement came less than two months after controversial parliamentary elections boycotted by the opposition.
‘President Bashar al-Assad has issued Decree 210 forming a new government under prime minister Dr Riad Hijab,’ state television said.
In Baghdad, Iraq’s foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari warned of the danger that the Syrian crisis might spill over.
‘Our main concern is the spillover of the crisis... into neighbouring countries, and no country is immune from this spillover because of the composition of the societies... the connections, the sectarian ethnic dimensions,’ he told reporters.
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