Turkey Locates Bodies of Downed Jet’s Pilots

Posted July 4th, 2012 at 2:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Turkey's military says the bodies of both pilots of an F-4 jet shot down by Syrian forces last month have been found at the bottom of the eastern Mediterranean sea as violence continued across Syria.

Relations between Ankara and Damascus deteriorated after Syria shot down the Turkish reconnaissance plane on June 22, with Turkey warning it would respond “decisively.” However, both capitals have said they do not want the incident to lead to armed conflict.

Tension has been escalating for months between the formerly close neighbors due to the Syrian government's harsh repression of a 16-month-old uprising. Turkey is allowing Syrian insurgents sanctuary along its border with Syria, and thousands of Syrian refugees have taken shelter in Turkish camps.

Also Wednesday, another Syrian general defected to the opposition, the 15th such high-ranking officer to flee to Turkish soil. Ankara now hosts some 250 officers who have defected to the rebel Free Syrian Army in its southern Hatay province and gives them logistical support, but denies arming them.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA 21 people were killed Wednesday as clashes continued throughout Syria, including 11 in the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, eight in northwest Idlib province and five in and around Damascus. The group also reported clashes south of the capital near a branch of the air force intelligence service.

Opposition activists say the carnage has spiked in recent days, with at least 109 people killed Sunday, 114 on Monday and 69 on Tuesday. VOA cannot independently confirm the reports of casualties or violence because Syria has severe restricted access by international journalists.

In Paris, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and his French counterpart said there could be no political transition in Syria with President Bashar al-Assad and urged Russia to stop backing its long-time ally.

Both Hague and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said an accord on Syria brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan, which calls for a transitional governing body formed by “mutual consent,” implied Mr. Assad must step down.

Speaking ahead of a “Friends of Syria” meeting Friday, Fabius said France wants to see signs of movement “as quickly as possible” or else it would return to the United Nations to seek tougher measures, ranging from sanctions to possible military intervention.

Meanwhile, a militant group has claimed responsibility for last week's attack on a pro-government Syrian satellite television station in which seven people were killed.

The U.S.-based SITE monitoring group on Tuesday quoted statements by the Al-Nusra Front on jihadist websites that described the raid on the privately-owned Ikhbariya station as an attack against a “striking arm” of the Syrian government.

Al-Nusra has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks throughout Syria. Little is known about the group. Syria's widening insurgency has raised fears that Islamist extremists are playing a larger role in the fighting.