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Syria, Turkey seek to calm tensions in wake of jet downing

June 23, 2012 |  2:12 pm

 Turkey

This post has been corrected. See the note at bottom for details.

BEIRUT -- Syrian and Turkish officials moved to tamp down tensions Saturday in the wake of a Syrian shoot-down of a Turkish jet, as the two nations mounted a joint rescue operation seeking two pilots still missing in the eastern Mediterranean.

The incident had the potential to escalate tensions between two neighboring countries, whose relations are already severely strained because of Turkey’s tacit support of the more than yearlong Syrian uprising against President Bashar Assad.

But there was a notable lack of bellicose rhetoric Saturday emanating from both capitals, Ankara and Damascus, underscoring the extreme sensitivity and explosive potential of the incident.

The guarded reactions indicate that the two nations were keen to avoid what could be a catastrophic confrontation.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul conceded Saturday that the F4 Phantom aircraft downed Friday off the Syrian coast may have wandered into Syrian airspace, but he said any such action was not "ill-intentioned," and was not unusual.

"We will wait to clarify some details, and then of course everything that needs to be done will be done," Gul told reporters.

Turkey has said it would act "with determination" once the facts were clarified.

Turkey is a NATO member and was probably consulting the United States and other allies before deciding how to respond. But there was no public indication that Turkey was seeking support from NATO allies for a retaliatory action.

Russia, a close ally of the Syrian government, will also be watching closely. Moscow has said it is against any foreign intervention in the Syrian civil conflict, which has left at least 10,000 dead, with the casualty toll mounting each day, as the nation plunges toward a sectarian-tinged civil war.

Diplomats have been extremely concerned about the possible "spillover" effect of the Syrian conflict in neighboring nations, including Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. On Thursday, a Syrian pilot defected to Jordan with his MIG-21 aircraft.

For the record, 3:48 p.m. June 23: A previous version of this post referred to President Abdullah Gul as prime minister.

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--Patrick J. McDonnell

Photo: A Turkish police officer patrols in front of the Syrian Embassy in Ankara, on Saturday, amid tensions between the neighboring countries. Credit: Adem Altanadem/AFP/Getty Images

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