MOSCOW — Turkey’s confrontation with Syria spread on Thursday to include Russia, Syria’s principal military ally, when Turkey’s prime minister said Russian munitions intended for Syria’s government had been impounded from a Syrian commercial jetliner forced to land in Turkey.
Syria and Russia protested the interception and grounding of the jetliner. Turkish warplanes forced it to land on Wednesday on suspicion of transporting war materiel while en route from Moscow to Damascus with 35 passengers, including a number of Russians. Syria accused the Turks of assaulting the crew, denied that any illegal cargo had been aboard and demanded the return of whatever had been seized.
The developments aggravated the combustible atmosphere enveloping the conflict in Syria, where a 19-month-old uprising against President Bashar Assad has turned into a civil war that threatens to destabilize the Middle East. Turkey is a major backer of the insurgents trying to topple Assad and has hinted it may take military action against his forces because of the conflict. Russia is the major arms supplier to Assad’s government.
Fighting between Syrian insurgents and Assad’s forces convulsed northern Syria near the Turkish border, with unconfirmed reports that rebels had seized control of a strategic highway into the embattled city of Aleppo that the Syrian Army used to resupply its troops.
The assertion that the impounded Syrian jetliner carried Russian military cargo was made by Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who declined to say how the Turks had come to suspect that the plane was carrying materiel or what precisely had been found. But he said the cargo violated international rules that prohibit passenger aircraft from carrying munitions.
The prime minister spoke after Moscow expressed dismay at Turkey’s actions. A statement from Aleksandr Lukashevich, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that the forced landing had “threatened the life and safety" of Russian citizens aboard and that Russia “continues to insist on an explanation of the reasons for these actions by the Turkish authorities."