* Plane was flying from Moscow to Damascus
* Turkey says some "non-civilian" cargo seized
* Russian says lives put at risk
* Syria carrying out "brutal massacres", says Turkey
By Nick Tattersall
ISTANBUL, Oct 11 Moscow accused Ankara of
endangering Russian lives on Thursday after Turkey forced a
Syrian passenger plane to land and seized what it suspected was
military equipment being ferried from Russia to Syrian President
Damascus said the interception of the Syrian Air plane was
an act of piracy, further heightening tensions between the
neighbours after Turkey's chief of staff warned his troops would
respond with greater force if shells from Syria continued to hit
Military jets escorted the Damascus-bound Airbus A-320,
which was carrying around 30 passengers from Moscow, into Ankara
airport late on Wednesday after Turkey received intelligence
that it was carrying "non-civilian cargo".
Russia, which has stood behind Assad's government during an
18-month-old uprising that has killed some 30,000 people,
angrily demanded an explanation.
"The lives and safety of the passengers were placed under
threat", the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement,
adding that 17 of its nationals onboard were refused access to
Russian diplomatic staff.
A source in a Russian arms exporting agency told Interfax
the jet was carrying no Russian weapons or military equipment.
Lebanon's al-Manar Television quoted Syrian Transport
Minister Mahmoud Said as saying the move amounted to "air piracy
which contradicts civil aviation treaties."
Turkey said it had acted within international law.
"We are determined to control weapons transfers to a regime
that carries out such brutal massacres against civilians. It is
unacceptable that such a transfer is made using our airspace,"
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
"We received information this plane was carrying cargo of a
nature that could not possibly be in compliance with the rules
of civil aviation," he said in Athens during an official visit,
in comments broadcast live on Turkish television.
The plane and its passengers were allowed to continue after
parts of the cargo were seized. Officials gave no details of
what was confiscated, saying investigations were underway, but
some Turkish newspapers said the cargo included non-lethal
supplies such as radio equipment.
Turkey said it would continue to investigate Syrian civilian
aircraft using its airspace if needed.
"We exercised our rights, and we will exercise them again
tomorrow if required," Turkish Transport Minister Binali
Yildirim told reporters.
Turkish authorities have also instructed Turkish passenger
planes not to fly in Syrian airspace, saying it was no longer
safe. A Reuters witness at the border saw at least one passenger
plane turn around as it approached Syria and head back into
Turkey on Wednesday.
Rebels are outgunned by the government but can still strike
at will, and President Bashar al-Assad has assumed personal
command of his forces, convinced he can prevail militarily.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 70 people had
been killed across Syria on Wednesday, including six rebels in
the strategic town of Maarat al-Nuaman, on the north-south
highway linking Aleppo to the capital Damascus.
The Syria conflict threatens to spill over Syria's borders
and ignite a wider Middle Eastern war, drawing in neighbouring
states and pitting Sunni Muslim states against Syria's rulers
and their allies including Shi'ite Iran.
Russia, from where the Syrian plane took off, has blocked
tougher U.N. resolutions against Damascus.
Vnukovo Airport spokeswoman Yelena Krylova told Interfax the
regular weekly flight to Damascus had 25 people on board left 20
minutes after its scheduled departure time.
Turkey's armed forces have bolstered their presence along
the 900-km (560-mile) border and have been firing back over the
past week in response to gunfire and shelling coming across from
northern Syria, where Assad's forces have been battling rebels
who control swathes of territory.
"We responded but if it continues we will respond with
greater force," state television TRT quoted Turkey's Chief of
Staff, General Necdet Ozel, as saying.
Several mortar bombs landed outside the Syrian border town
of Azmarin and heavy machinegun fire could be heard on Wednesday
as clashes between the Syrian army and rebels intensified.
Plumes of smoke rose into the sky and cries of "God is
Greatest" rang out between the bursts of gunfire. Scores of
civilians, many of them women with screaming children clinging
to their necks, crossed a narrow river marking the border with
Turkey as they fled the fighting.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Tuesday
the military alliance had plans in place to defend
It is not clear whether the shells that have hit Turkish
territory were aimed to strike there or were due to Syrian
troops overshooting as they attacked rebel positions. Turkey has
provided sanctuary for rebel officers and fighters.