Turkish PM says passenger plane forced to land in Ankara was carrying material destined for Assad's defense ministry.
A Syrian-bound passenger plane intercepted by Turkey was carrying Russian-made munitions destined for Assad regime's defense ministry, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said.
"This was munitions from the Russian equivalent of our Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation being sent to the Syrian Defense Ministry", Erdogan told a news conference on Thursday.
"Their examination is continuing and the necessary will follow", he added.
Turkish jets forced the plane, en route from Moscow to Damascus, to land in Ankara.
Assad regime said the plane had been carrying legitimate cargo and described Turkey's actions as an act of "air piracy", while Moscow accused Ankara of endangering the lives of Russian passengers when it intercepted the jet late on Wednesday.
The grounding of the plane was another sign of Ankara's growing assertiveness towards the crisis in Syria.
Turkey's chief of staff warned on Wednesday his troops would respond "with greater force" if shells from Alawites continued to hit Turkish territory.
A spokesperson for Moscow's Vnukovo airport told state news agency Itar-Tass everything put on the plane had cleared customs and security checks and no prohibited items were on board.
Asked about Erdogan's statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry declined further comment.
Russia's arms export agency said it had no cargo on the flight, and the Interfax news agency quoted a Russian diplomat as saying the cargo seized by Turkey was not of Russian origin.
Syrian Arab Airlines chief Ghaida Abdulatif said in Damascus the plane had been carrying civilian electrical equipment.
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 regime 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 on board were refused access to Russian diplomatic staff.
Turkey said it would stop more Syrian civilian aircraft using its airspace if necessary and instructed Turkish passenger planes to avoid Syrian airspace, saying it was no longer safe.
"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", Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey's foreign minister, said.
Turkey has boosted its troop presence along the 900km border and returned fire in response to shelling from northern Syria, where Assad's forces have been battling rebels.
Turkey's parliament last week authorized the deployment of troops outside Turkish territory.
Such approval has in the past been used for strikes against Kurdish bases in northern Iraq. In 2008 Turkey sent 10,000 troops backed by air power over the border.
Some 25 fighter planes were sent to a military base in the southern city of Diyarbakir, around 100km from the Syrian border, on Monday, the Dogan news agency said.
Turkey has made clear that beyond like-for-like retaliation it has no appetite for unilateral intervention in Syria. Such a move would be fraught with risks.
Turkey relies on Russia, which has blocked tougher UN resolutions against Damascus, both for energy needs and to help realize its ambitions to be a hub for energy supplies to Europe.
Many Turks see Russia as harboring sympathy towards the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which has stepped up attacks in southeast Turkey in recent months. Turkish officials believe Syrian regime and Iran have also been backing the group.
"We get 80 per cent of our natural gas from Iran and Russia. Already the PKK card is being used by Iran against Turkey ... so the risks for Turkey of being involved in even a limited operation are huge", Ulgen said.
Meanwhile, Assad described Syria and Turkey as "brothers" in an interview published on Thursday, saying Turkey "has no reason to go to war" over recent cross-border clashes.
"We should work on this issue together", he told left-leaning Turkish newspaper Aydinlik, after a week of shelling between the neighbors left several people dead.
"In times like this, countries should correct their mistakes by talking to each other. [The] Turkish public is noble. We have no problems with the Turkish people and the Turkish soldiers. Syria is not an enemy to Turkey. We've always known Turkey as brothers."
But the interview, which appeared to be an effort to calm tensions, also carried a rebuke.
"We have problems with the Turkish government", said Assad. "We're having problems along the Turkish border because of the attitude of the Turkish government. [The] Turkish government is also responsible for the deaths. And the reason the relationship has come to this point is also a fault of the Turkish government. Not the Turkish people".