Ankara took all measures to ensure the safety of the passengers of a Syrian plane intercepted en route from Moscow to Damascus, the Turkish foreign ministry said Thursday to refute criticism of its handling of the incident.
“There is no basis for the concerns that the safety of the passengers and the plane might have been compromised,” during the forced landing of the Syrian plane, the ministry said following attacks from Russian and Syrian officials.
Ankara scrambled two jets Wednesday evening to force the Syrian Airbus A320 with 35 passengers on board to land at Ankara’s Esenboga Airport, Turkish officials said, after receiving intelligence that its cargo did not comply with rules of civil aviation.
“After the landing, all measures were taken to ensure the safety of all passengers and to cater to their possible needs,” the ministry said.
The pilot was given a choice to turn back as the plane was flying over the Black Sea before it entered Turkish airspace, the ministry also added in its written statement.
The plane was grounded for nine hours before it was finally allowed to resume its journey to Damascus, as Ankara confiscated its unspecified “objectionable” cargo, triggering an angry response from Damascus and Moscow.
Damascus blamed Ankara for hostility and demanded return of the seized cargo, while Moscow voiced concern that Turkey’s grounding of the plane risked the lives of passengers, 17 of them Russian nationals.
The ministry, in return, said Ankara constantly updated the Russian embassy after it was informed by the mission that there were Russian civilians, including children, on board.
“Our Moscow Embassy also delivered information to the Russian Foreign Ministry on the incident this morning,” the statement added.
Moscow, a top Damascus ally, also denied that the plane was carrying arms or military equipment, demanding an explanation from Turkish officials.