Emergency NATO talks set after Syria shoots down Turkish jet fighter

A file photo of a Turkish Air Force F-4E Phantom fighter jet.
Turkish Armed Forces
Updated at 7:54 a.m. Eastern.

(CBS/AP) ANKARA, Turkey - NATO will hold emergency talks on Tuesday to discuss Syria's downing of a Turkish jet fighter, but the alliance is not expected to take military action, even if it confirms Turkey's claim that the unarmed plane was attacked in international airspace.

The incident has further raised regional tensions over the conflict in Syria, where some 40 people were reported killed Sunday in new clashes between rebels and government troops.

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sharply criticized Syria for downing the Turkish plane, which Turkey's Foreign Ministry called an "open and grave violation of international law" that would justify retaliation.

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"The United States condemns this brazen and unacceptable act in the strongest possible terms," Clinton said in Washington. "It is yet another reflection of the Syrian authorities' callous disregard for international norms, human life, and peace and security."

Meanwhile, a Turkish official said Monday that dozens of members of Syria's military had defected to Turkey overnight with their families.

The state-run Anadolu news agency said 33 soldiers crossed into Turkey overnight and the group - 224 people in all - included several high ranking officers.

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Clinton said Washington will maintain close contact with Turkish officials as they determine their response to the jet incident, including via the U.N. Security Council. "We will work with Turkey and other partners to hold the Assad regime accountable," she said.

Turkish state media reported Sunday that the RF-4E reconnaissance plane's wreckage was found in the Mediterranean Sea at a depth of 4,265 feet, but officials did not confirm the report. The two pilots remained missing.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the jet was on a training flight to test Turkey's radar capabilities, not spying on Syria. He said the plane mistakenly strayed into Syrian airspace Friday, but was quickly warned to leave by Turkish authorities and was a mile inside international airspace when it was shot down.

Syria continued insisting on Monday that the shooting was "not an attack" and that the aircraft had violated its airspace, causing the incident.

"It was all lies what the Turkish Foreign Minister was saying. It is actually, rather, a clear aggression by Turkey on the Syrian air space," Jihad Makdissi, a spokesman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry, said Monday morning in Damascus. "We are still keen to have good ties with the Turks. It was Ankara which harmed relations, not us."

Turkish authorities say Syria didn't warn the Turkish plane or send its own jets to confront it.

At the request of Turkey, NATO's governing body will meet Tuesday to discuss the incident, said Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokeswoman. The consultations were called under article 4 of NATO's founding Washington Treaty.

"Under article 4, any ally can request consultations whenever, in the opinion of any of them, their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened," Lungescu said. The North Atlantic Council — the ambassadors of the 28 NATO countries — will decide whether to respond, she said.

The last time article 4 was invoked was nine years ago — also by Turkey — after tensions with neighboring Iraq escalated. However, that case did not lead to the invocation of article 5, which declares that an attack against any single NATO country shall be considered as an attack against them all.

"No one should dare to test Turkey's capabilities," Davutoglu said Sunday.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was expected to make a statement Tuesday and might announce some retaliatory steps.