July 4, 2012 11:54 a.m. ET
Turkey on Wednesday found the bodies of two pilots shot down by Syria last month during a contested flight that pushed the neighbors’ relations to a new low almost a year after Ankara threw its weight behind the opposition to oust President Bashar al-Assad from power.
The military General Staff in Ankara said on Wednesday that it was working to remove the bodies of Captain Gokhan Ertan and Lieutenant Hasan Hüseyin Aksoy from the Mediterranean. Turkey didn’t identify the location of the dead pilots or provide any additional details. The armed forces weren’t immediately able to provide comment.
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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a short statement on his website offering condolences but offered no further comment.
The June 22 downing of Turkey’s RF4 surveillance jet dramatically raised tensions along Turkey’s 565-mile border with Syria, and led the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, following a presentation on Tuesday by Turkey, to condemn Syria’s action. Turkey’s military last week deployed armored units along the frontier, after Mr. Erdogan promised “decisive steps” as a response.
Those tensions were illustrated on Monday as Turkey scrambled six Turkish F-16 jets from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey for the third consecutive day in response to Syrian helicopters flying close to the border.
Turkey’s military said that on Monday that four Turkish F-16 jets from air bases in Incirlik and two from Batman in eastern Turkey had scrambled in three separate incidents in response to three Syrian helicopters flying south of the Turkish province of Hatay on Tuesday.
Attention will now be focused on whether the recovery of the pilots’ bodies offers more clues on where and how the Turkish jet was downed.
Mr. Assad says Syrian forces hit the plane over territorial waters with antiaircraft gunfire. Turkey says it was hit in international airspace, 1.6 kilometers (about a mile) outside Syrian waters.
The military statement didn’t include details about the remnants of the jet, which have yet to be found.
Mr. Assad also appears increasingly eager to levy domestic pressure on Mr. Erdogan’s government, which has been criticized by the opposition in Turkey for its hawkish stance toward Damascus. In an interview published Wednesday by Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, Mr. Assad accused Ankara of having a sectarian agenda and supporting the rebellion against his regime.
“He has unfortunately made Turkey a party to all bloody activities in Syria. Turkey gave all kinds of logistical support to terrorists who are killing our people,” Mr. Assad was quoted as saying of Mr. Erdogan. “He has his own agenda. He wanted terrorists to be free in Syria, for them not to be pressured, arrested, and for us not to defend ourselves,” Mr. Assad was quoted as saying.
U.N. Syrian mission chief Robert Mood says full work can resume once conditions in Syria improve. The U.N. Supervision Mission in Syria said on Wednesday that it will resume its work once condition allow observers to go on patrols.
Despite the heightened tensions between the neighbors in recent weeks, opinion polls in Turkey suggest the majority of the public is firmly opposed to military conflict with Syria. According to a survey of 1,500 respondents published in June—before the jet was downed—by independent Turkish think tank EDAM, 41% of Turks oppose any intervention, while almost 15% say Turkey should create a buffer zone inside Syria. Almost 12% said Turkey should stage a military intervention, while some 8% backed supporting the opposition Free Syrian Army fighters with arms.
Turkish government officials on Wednesday didn’t immediately make statements following the General Staff statement announcing the deaths.
Both pilots’ fathers told Turkish television networks last week that Turkey should not go to war over the death of their sons. Government officials and opposition parties alike have called for calm over the downing of the unarmed plane.
Mr. Assad suggested on Tuesday that Syrian forces had mistaken the Turkish plane for an Israeli jet, stressing that it was flying in an air corridor used three times in the past by the Israeli air force. Mr. Assad added that he regretted the incident “100%,” in the first of a series of exclusive interviews with Cumhuriyet that appeared to strike a contrite tone but remain defiant against Ankara. “I wish it hadn’t happened,” Mr. Assad said.
using the number/letter grid:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M N O P Q R
S T U V W X Y Z
A = 1 J = 1 S = 1
B = 2 K = 2 T = 2
C = 3 L = 3 U = 3
D = 4 M = 4 V = 4
E = 5 N = 5 W = 5
F = 6 O = 6 X = 6
G = 7 P = 7 Y = 7
H = 8 Q = 8 Z = 8
I = 9 R = 9
762815 59215 51
his path of destiny = 51 = Fatality. Killed.
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