Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday defended the military’s downing of a Syrian helicopter which he said violated its airspace.
“The Turkish Armed Forces did what’s necessary,” Erdogan told a press conference, a day after its warplanes shot down the military helicopter which was detected two kilometres (1.2 miles) inside Turkish airspace.
In first public remarks after the incident, the premier recalled that his country had changed the military rules of engagement toward war-torn Syria and authorised its military “in certain areas.”
“We have publicised that those rules will be invoked in such circumstances like border violations,” Erdogan said, adding that Turkey invoked the rules after the Syrian helicopter “paid no heed to repeated warnings.”
In a statement on Monday, the Turkish military said one of the two patrolling Turkish F-16 jets shot down the helicopter which violated the airspace in the vicinity of the Guvecci border post.
Syria’s army also confirmed that the helicopter had been shot down by Turkey, accusing Erdogan of trying to “escalate” tensions between the two neighbours.
Turkey changed rules of engagement after the downing of one of its fighter jets by the Syrian air force in June 2012.
Erdogan had then announced that any military element that approaches the Turkish border from Syria would be considered a threat and treated as a military target.
Relations have deteriorated between Damascus and Ankara, who were once close allies, since the outbreak of an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the unleashing by the regime of a brutal crackdown on rebels in March 2011.
Turkey has consistently lobbied for the ouster of Assad and provided shelter for Syrian rebels seeking to overthrow him.
The long, volatile border between the two countries has become increasingly tense.
And the Turkish military has repeatedly struck back in response to shells and mortar rounds from the Syrian side since a deadly shelling in October which killed five of its nationals in a border town.