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Turkey shot dead two pilots of Russian Sukhoi Su-24
November 25, 2015, 11:08 am

Turkmen forces in Syria shot dead the two pilots of a Russian jet downed by Turkish warplanes near the border with Turkey on Tuesday as they descended with parachutes, a deputy commander of a Turkmen brigade told reporters.

"Both of the pilots were retrieved dead. Our comrades opened fire into the air and they died in the air," Alpaslan Celik, a deputy commander in a Syrian Turkmen brigade said near the Syrian village of Yamadi as he held what he said was a piece of a pilot's parachute.

EU's Tusk warns of 'dangerous moment'

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg offered support for Ankara as European Union president Donald Tusk called for calm on Tuesday after Turkey, a candidate for membership of the bloc, shot down the Russian war plane on the Syrian border.

"In this dangerous moment after downing of Russian jet, all should remain cool headed and calm," tweeted Tusk, the former Polish prime minister.

Tusk is due to host a difficult EU summit with Turkey in Brussels on Sunday which was supposed to focus on a deal to stem Europe's migrant crisis.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation EU, said it was "following developments closely" and "trying to find out exactly what happened."

Nato member Turkey said earlier it had shot down a Russian SU-24 jet for violating Turkish airspace. Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Turkey of a "stab in the back".

Turkey first sought EU membership in 1987 but its bid has made poor progress, with issues such as fundamental freedoms and the future of Cyprus proving to be major obstacles.

The EU is meanwhile due to decide in December whether to maintain sanctions on Moscow over its involvement in the conflict in Ukraine.

'Stab in the back'

Russian President Vladimir Putin called Turkey's action a "stab in the back by the terrorists' accomplices" and warned of "significant consequences." At Turkey's request, Nato's governing body called an emergency meeting.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu insisted his country has the right to take "all kinds of measures" against border violations, and called on the international community to work toward "extinguishing the fire that is burning in Syria."

Turkey said the Su-24 ignored several warnings that it was nearing, then intruding, into Turkish airspace. Russia insisted the plane stayed over Syria, where it was supporting ground action against rebels.

"We will never tolerate such atrocities as happened today and we hope that the international community will find the strength to join forces and fight this evil," Putin said.

Rebels said they fired at the two parachuting pilots as they descended, and that one had died. A rebel spokesman said they would consider releasing the body in exchange for prisoners held by Syria. The fate of the second pilot was not immediately known.

Despite harsh words, some analysts believe that Russia and Turkey have reasons not to let the incident escalate.

"Relations have been very strained between Russia and Turkey of late so Moscow will be trying its utmost to contain the damage this might cause," said Natasha Kuhrt, lecturer in International Peace and Security at King's College London.

"It's a serious incident in anybody's book," added Ian Kearns, director of the European Leadership Network, a London think-tank.

But Kearns said the Russian-Turkish economic relationship, including in the energy field, is important to Moscow. And Russia and the West appeared to be moving toward an understanding of their common strategic interest in eradicating Daesh following the bombing of a Russian airliner over Sinai and the attacks in Paris.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry invited diplomats from the five UN Security Council member countries for a meeting to brief them about the incident. Separately, the Russian charge d'affaires was also invited for a meeting during which Turkey "conveyed its sensitivities" over border violations.

Turkey has complained repeatedly that Russian planes supporting Syrian President Basher Assad were straying across the border - a complaint repeated to the Russian ambassador only last Friday.

The Russian plane was supporting Syrian troops which have been on the offensive in an area controlled by several insurgent groups including al-Qaida's branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, and the 2nd Coastal Division and the 10th Coast Division that includes local Turkmen fighters.

Jahed Ahmad, a spokesman the 10th Coast Division, said its forces fired at the Russian pilots as they descended. One died, Ahmad told The Associated Press.

A Turkish military statement said the plane entered Turkish airspace over the town of Yayladagi, in Hatay province.

Turkish officials released what they said was the radar image of the path the Russian plane took, showing it flying across a stretch of Turkish territory in Turkey's southern-most tip, in the region of Yayladag, in Hatay province.

Three Russian journalists working in Syria suffered minor injuries when a missile landed near their car on Monday, Russia's Defense Ministry said. They were being treated in a military hospital.

Last month, Turkish jets shot down an unidentified drone that it said had violated Turkey's airspace.

Turkey changed its rules of engagement a few years ago after Syria shot down a Turkish plane. According to the new rules, Turkey said it would consider all "elements" approaching from Syria an enemy threat and would act accordingly.

Following earlier accusations of Russian intrusion into Turkish airspace, the US-European Command on November 6 deployed six US Air Force F-15 fighters from their base in Britain to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey to help the Nato-member country secure its skies.

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