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Turkey: Military jet missing over sea near Syria

Updated at 5:00 p.m. ET

(CBS/AP) ANKARA, Turkey - A Turkish air force jet went down in Syrian waters on Friday, but Turkey's prime minister said he could not confirm media reports that it had been shot down by Syrian forces.

Turkish and Syrian vessels were searching for the plane — which the media identified as an F-4 — and its two pilots, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a nationally televised news conference.

CBS News correspondent David Martin confirmed that the jet was shot down by Syrian air defenses while on a routine training flight. He added that the Turks say it came down 8 miles off the Syrian coast, which is way too close for a routine training flight, so that suggests it strayed off course. There was a potential flash point in the tensions between Turkey and Syria Friday when Syria's air defenses shot down a Turkish F-4 jet fighter. The Turkish jet was conducting a routine training flight over the eastern Mediterranean and apparently strayed too close to the Syrian coast. Neither side has yet accused the other of being at fault

Turkey has joined nations such as the United States in saying that Syrian President Bashar Assad should step down because of the uprising in his country that has killed thousands of people. Turkey also has set up refugee camps on its border for more than 32,000 Syrians who have fled the fighting. That situation generated media speculation on Friday about what the Turkish plane was doing over Syrian territory and whether Syria had shot it down, then apologized.

"I cannot say it was downed, without definite information. It is not possible to say that," Erdogan said of the plane. He also said he could not confirm that Syria had apologized. The prime minister held his news conference after returning Friday from a visit to Mexico and Brazil.

Erdogan confirmed that the plane went down in the Mediterranean Sea about 8 miles away from the Syrian town of Latakia. "Four of our gunboats and some Syrian gunboats are carrying out a joint search there," he said.

Erdogan, citing lack of information, said he could not say why the Turkish plane was flying in that area. He said a detailed statement might be issued later Friday following a security meeting with Cabinet ministers and military leaders. The meeting was originally called to discuss intensified Kurdish rebel attacks in Turkey.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah's Manar TV reported that Syrian forces shot down the Turkish plane, citing unidentified Syrian security sources. Hezbollah is closely allied with Syria, but the report could not be confirmed.

The Turkish jet disappeared southwest of the Turkish province of Hatay, which borders Syria, Gov. Ulvi Saran of the southern province of Malatya told Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency. He said it had taken off from a military air base in Malatya.

The military said the plane disappeared from its radar and that radio contact was lost at 11:58 a.m. (5:58 a.m. ET) Friday during a mission flight.

Some eyewitnesses in a seaside area of Hatay province told private NTV television that the plane was flying so low they thought it would "hit the roofs." They said the plane then flew toward the sea.

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