From CNN: Syria’s besieged leader says he regrets his soldiers shot down a Turkish jet last month but insisted they reasoned the plane belonged to Israel.
"I would not wish it for any plane other than an enemy one. Especially for a Turkish plane, I say 100%, if only we did not shoot it down," President Bashar al-Assad told Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper in an interview published Tuesday.
"The Turkish people are our brothers and something that would make them sad would never make me happy and it did not. If this was an Israeli plane, of course, I would have been happy."
The June 22 shootdown of a Turkish F-4 Phantom jet came after Israeli planes used the same air corridor three other times, al-Assad said. Israel and Syria are longtime adversaries.
"A plane coming from that side is perceived by the Syrian military as an Israeli plane. It was accepted as an enemy plane, reacted against fast and fired at," he said. "Since we couldn’t see it on our radars and no information was given either, the soldiers downed it. We learned that it belonged to Turkey after shooting it down. . . ."
Al-Assad criticized what he views as Erdogan’s "dangerous" posturing after what was an understandable military move.
"In an environment like this, arrival of such a plane is naturally perceived as an enemy plane. Anyone who understands military matters a bit would know this. A country at war would behave this way anywhere in the world. This is absolutely not a political decision. However, unfortunately the Erdogan government is after narrow calculations using this incident. He hasn’t gotten the Turkish people’s support for 15 months about the Syria policy. Now, he wants to use this incident as an opportunity to turn the animosity between governments to animosity between the people. This is very dangerous," he said.
Despite the tensions, al-Assad makes a distinction between the Turkish government and Israel, its longtime adversary. He doesn’t see Turkey as an "enemy, and said Syria would have no reason to shoot down a plane from Turkey. . . ."
And Al-Assad said that despite Turkey’s change in its rules of engagement, "we have not and will not mass along the Turkish border."
"The Turkish people are our friend and they will understand us. It doesn’t matter if the Turkish government has animosity towards Syria. If the Turkish people start feeling animosity, then that means there is a problem." (photo: CNN)