Confrontation ... The Syrian passenger plane is seen after it was forced to land at Ankara airport. Photo: AFP
Turkish authorities discovered crates of military equipment bound for the Syrian armed forces after forcing a passenger jet from Moscow to Damascus to land, Turkish newspapers reported.
Intelligence reports said the plane was carrying cargo banned by civil aviation rules, Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said.
We are determined to control the flow of weapons to the regime in Syria, which is mercilessly massacring its people
The plane was carrying about 30 passengers and some cargo that it didn't report, Mr Davutoglu said in an interview broadcast by TGRT television from Athens, without specifying what the cargo was. Authorities later discovered 12-13 "giant" crates of equipment destined for the Syrian armed forces, including communications gear and jammers, the Istanbul-based Hurriyet newspaper said.
"We are determined to control the flow of weapons to the regime in Syria, which is mercilessly massacring its people," Mr Davutoglu said. "It is unacceptable to use Turkish airspace for such shipments."
Artillery exchanges across the border between Turkey and Syria have continued for six days, triggered by the deaths of five Turkish civilians when a mortar shell landed in a frontier village on October 3. The following day, the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, received authorisation from parliament to send troops into Syria if necessary.
The plane, an Airbus A320 operated by Syrian Airlines was escorted to Ankara airport by the Turkish warplanes, Hurriyet reported.
Russia's government said about half the passengers were its citizens. Turkish authorities had been searching the plane for weapons for several hours without finding anything, a Russian official said on condition of anonymity.
The plane, Flight SRY442, was being monitored before it entered Turkish airspace and had been intercepted based on extraordinary intelligence, Mr Davutoglu said. Turkey suspended all flights by its aircraft to Syria, state-run TRT television reported.
"Turkey does not want war but there is a war in Syria," Mr Davutoglu said
The incident was not expected to affect Turkish relations with Russia, he said. Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, was due to visit Turkey at the weekend, but the trip has been postponed, the Turkish prime minister's office said.
About 100,000 Syrian refugees are in Turkey, including many members of the rebel Free Syrian Army that has been fighting forces loyal to Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, for nearly two years.
The chief of staff of Turkey's armed forces, General Necdet Ozel, said Turkey would retaliate more harshly should Syrian shells continue to land on Turkish soil. He made the comments as he inspected troops in Akcakale, the village where the Turkish civilians were killed on October 3.
At least 14 Syrian soldiers had died in Turkish retaliatory fire into the country in the past six days, Al Arabiya television reported.
Syria was not seeking a military confrontation with Turkey and was investigating the shelling that caused the five deaths, Jihad Makdissi, Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said.
"Syria is in a self-defensive mode and we will act accordingly," he said. "What happened was an incident not an attack. This incident is because of the presence of armed groups in that area."