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Turkey investigates disappearance of warplane off Syria

June 22, 2012 | 11:14 am

BEIRUT -- Turkish authorities were investigating the disappearance of one of their nation's warplanes Friday amid reports that it may have been shot down by Syrian forces over the Mediterranean sea.

There was no immediate confirmation from Turkey that the F-4 Phantom jet had been downed, and media reports gave conflicting versions of the incident.

Turkish officials said that they had lost contact with the U.S.-made F-4 on Friday as it was flying over Hatay province, close to Syrian waters, about 90 minutes after it took off from the Erhac airbase, the BBC reported.

Various reports suggested that the plane crashed off the coast of Syria. Turkish media said both Turkish and Syrian forces were searching for the downed aircraft in the Mediterranean.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Edorgan told a news conference that he could not confirm reports that the aircraft had been shot down or that Syria had apologized for the incident.

The Beirut-based Al-Manar channel -- controlled by the Shiite Muslim movement Hezbollah, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad -- reported that  Syrian air defenses had shot down one Turkish aircraft and hit another in Syrian airspace. But there was no official word  from the Syrian government.

Turkey and Syria were once close allies, but the 15-month rebellion against Assad has severely strained relations between the two neighbors, who share more than 500 miles of border. Thousands of Syrian refugees have fled into Turkey, which also has been a safe haven for rebel fighters from neighboring Syria.

Turkey has joined the United States and other nations in calling for Assad to step down.

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-- Patrick J. McDonnell and Rima Marrouch

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