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Turkey releases detained Syrian passenger plane

The Turkish authorities have freed a Syrian passenger plane after briefly detaining it amid suspicions it was carrying "non-civilian cargo" from Russia. The intervention follows tensions on the countries’ shared border.

The Airbus A320 and its passengers were permitted on Wednesday to leave the Turkish capital, Ankara, several hours after it was intercepted by Turkish fighter jets as it entered Turkish airspace en route from Moscow.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said authorities had seized some of the cargo following suspicions the plane had been carrying heavy weapons to Damascus. He declined to comment on what was in the seized cargo.

Speaking earlier on Turkish television, Davutoglu said authorities had been acting on intelligence suggesting that the plane was carrying "non-civilian cargo." He added that Turkey was within its rights to investigate civilian planes under international law.

"We are determined to control weapons transfers to a regime that carries out such brutal massacres against civilians. It is unacceptable that such a transfer is made using our airspace," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

The plane was heading for Damascus from Moscow with 35 passengers on board, Turkish media reported. Russia is the most important source of weapons for troops loyal to President Bashar Assad.

Turkey vows to hit back harder

Earlier in the day, Turkey had warned it would escalate its response if shells continued to land on its territory from Syria.

"We responded, but if it continues we will respond with greater force," Turkish Chief of Staff General Necdat Ozel told state television.

Ozel was touring the Turkish border town of Akcakale, where five civilians were killed in shelling by Syria last week. Following that incident, Turkey used artillery to strike targets in Syria, with the Turkish parliament approving the possibility of military operations in Syria.

The Syrian regime on Wednesday rejected a UN call for a unilateral ceasefire, insisting on a commitment from rebels to end the violence first.

Fighting around the strategically important town of Maaret al-Numan reportedly intensified on Wednesday after it was taken by rebel soldiers on Tuesday.

rc,ccp/slk (dpa, Reuters)