A Turkish Air Force F-4 war plane fires during a military exercise in Izmir, in this May 26, 2010 file photo. Turkey lost a F-4 warplane, similar to the one pictured, over the Mediterranean on June 22, 2012, but Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said in his first public comments, he could not say whether the plane had crashed or been shot down. REUTERS
A Turkish Air Force F-4 war plane fires during a military exercise in Izmir, in this May 26, 2010.  — Photo Reuters

ANKARA: Turkey said it has found no traces of explosives on the wreckage of a fighter jet it has claimed was downed by Syria, raising new questions about the incident that inflamed cross-border tensions.

“No traces of explosives or flammable products were found on the debris recovered from the sea,” a statement from Turkey's general staff said on Wednesday, adding that other material was still being examined.

For the first time, the army also declined to use the term “shot down by Syria” instead referring to “our plane that Syria claimed to have destroyed”.

Turkey has previously maintained that the F-4 Phantom was shot down in international airspace over the eastern Mediterranean by Syrian fire on June 22, further souring relations between the one-time allies.

Two weeks after the incident, a Turkish rescue team, fortified by the US deep-sea explorer Nautilus, recovered the bodies of the two pilots from the seabed, but most of the wreckage, believed to be in pieces, remained at the bottom of the Mediterranean.

“A technical investigation is ongoing on the parts we have salvaged, and on the video footage of other parts still lying at the bottom of the sea,” the statement added.

Turkish experts, however, say establishing what happened to the plane on June 22 would only be possible once all the wreckage was recovered.

“Syria thinks they opened fire and shot down the plane, Turkey thinks the plane was shot down. But now we have the third option that the plane might have just crashed trying to dodge fire,” the Haberturk daily quoted security analyst Nihat Ali Ozcan as saying. The information shared by the general staff does not support either argument, retired vice-admiral Atilla Kiyat told the same daily.

“The announcement from the army command does not confirm or refute Turkey's or Syria's explanation for that matter.”Syria maintains that the the fighter was flying low in Syrian airspace when it was shot down by shore-based anti-aircraft guns.

Turkish media speculated that the plane might have crashed due to pilot error or technical failure.

“I think we are increasingly witnessing politics enter into the scene here,” former air force general Erdogan Karakus told Hurriyet daily. “I am feeling Turkey might be gradually giving up on its missile claims,” he noted.


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