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Kerry backs Ankara over intercept of Russian jet over Turkey

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, says Russia risked having its plane shot down in 'incursion' over Turkey
Turkish F-16s intercepted a Russian fighter plane which reportedly violated Turkish air space near Syria's border (AFP)
The US Secretary of State John Kerry has said that a Russian jet's incursion into Nato ally Turkey's airspace risked it being shot down and a serious escalation of the conflict in Syria.
The Turkish government on Monday said the Russia jet flew into Turkish airspace on Saturday but was turned back into Syria after being intercepted by two Turkish F-16s. 
Kerry said: "We're greatly concerned about it because it is precisely the kind of thing that, had Turkey responded under its rights, could have resulted in a shoot-down."
"It is precisely the kind of thing that we warned against," he said, in reference to US attempts to set up a direct channel to Russian commanders to avoid conflicts over Syria.
A senior US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said on Monday that Russia's violation was probably deliberate.  "I don't believe that this was an accident," the official said. "This just affirms our deep concern over what they are doing. It continues to call into question their intent and certainly raises questions about basic self-conduct (and) professional behaviour in the skies."

Turkey summons ambassador

Ankara summoned the Russian ambassador to "strongly protest" against the violation, and demand that "any such violation not be repeated", otherwise Russia would be held responsible for "any undesired incident that may occur".
Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Haber-Turk television: "Our rules of engagement are clear whoever violates our air space. The Turkish armed forces are clearly instructed. Even if it is a flying bird it will be intercepted," he added.
Russia began airstrikes in Syria last week to assist the government of President Bashar al-Assad, saying it would attack "extremists" including the Islamic State militant group.

However, Prime Minister Davutoglu said Syria was "not a Turkey-Russia crisis... our channels with Russia remain open".

Ankara said the Russian fighter was intercepted after it infringed Turkish airspace at 12:08pm (0908 GMT) on Saturday, south of the Yayladagi region in Turkey's southern Hatay province.

The Turkish army also reported on Monday a MIG-29 jet "harassed" two patrolling F-16s by locking on to their radar signals on Sunday, in a second incident near the Turkish-Syrian border. The statement however said the army did not know which air force the jet belonged to. MIG-29s are Russian-made but also flown by the Syrian air force.

NATO warning

NATO said the incursion on Saturday was an "extreme danger", and called on Russia to stop its bombing campaign against the Syrian opposition groups.

After an emergency meeting, the alliance said in a statement: "Allies strongly protest these violations of Turkish sovereign airspace and condemn these incursions into and violations of Nato airspace. Allies also note the extreme danger of such irresponsible behaviour."

The head of Nato, Jens Stoltenberg, meanwhile called on Russia to "fully respect Nato airspace and avoid escalating tensions with the alliance".

"NATO remains strongly committed to Turkey's security," he said. "Russia’s actions are not contributing to the security and stability of the region."

In Russia, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that he did not think the country's relations with Turkey would be "badly affected" by its operations over Syria

“Our bilateral relations with Turkey are quite comprehensive and based on strong grounds,” he said, adding: "Our ambassador [in Ankara] was summoned to the [Turkish] Foreign Ministry and given a note, which we will check”.

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