Turkey frees detained Iran cargo plane, finding ‘nothing illegal’ on board
Plane had been forced to land in Turkey on suspicion it was carrying weapons to Syria, day after ship allegedly bringing arms from Iran to Gaza was seized by Israel.
- Published 17:28 16.03.11
- Latest update 17:28 16.03.11
An Iranian cargo plane, forced to land in southeast Turkey on suspicion it was carrying weapons to Syria, departed on Wednesday after a search squad found nothing illegal on the plane, officials said.
A team trained in chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear cargo from the Civil Defense Directorate inspected the plane, which landed in the city of Diyarbakir late on Tuesday en route from Tehran to Aleppo in northern Syria, the state-run Anatolian news agency said.
Airport officials said the plane, which had two pilots, an unknown number of crew members and no passengers, was ordered to land on suspicion it was carrying Iranian weapons to Syria.
Selcuk Unal, spokesman for Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, told Reuters: “The plane was allowed to continue on its route after a routine control.” He added the search squads had found “nothing illegal” inside the aircraft.
The forced landing occurred on the same day Israeli naval commandos seized a cargo ship in the Mediterranean Sea carrying what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said were Iranian-supplied weapons intended for Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.
The Israel Defense Forces said the vessel that was captured with Iranian weapons had set off from the Syrian port of Latakia and stopped in Mersin, Turkey, before heading towards Alexandria in Egypt. Turkey was not involved in the arms shipment, it said.
On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Miniser Ehud Barak told reporters at Ashdod Port, where the seized cargo ship was taken, that he hoped Turkey carried out a proper inspection.
“We have seen this plane that was stopped in Turkey, and it must be hoped that there, too, they will conduct checks as required, and that the other players that are involved, too — that everyone in their area do the right things so that this mutual reinforcement of terror and (military) build-up ceases,” Barak said.
Before leaving Diyarbakir, the plane, identified as a Russian-made Ilyushin 62 and bearing Arabic script and green livery, was parked on the tarmac at the airport, which is used for both civilian and military aviation.
Iranian Army Commander-General denies sending weapons to Gaza on “Victoria” ship; Hamas also claims weapons weren’t for them.
“The Zionist regime’s diet is mixed with lies, lies and more lies,” Gen. Amir Ataollah Salehi said. “We deny all false reports.”
The Zionist regime is a usurper,” he added. “There is an Islamic awakening throughout the Middle East and North Africa that sees the damage.”
Salehi said “there is no doubt that Israel is calculating its losses since the departure of the Egyptian Pharoh. God willing, they will sink to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.”
He added that “next year the armed forces of the Islamic Republic will be stronger than ever.”
A Hamas spokesman also denied that the weapons aboard the Victoria was headed for them, Israel Radio reported on Wednesday.
The IDF intercepted a cargo vessel, called the Victoria, en route from Turkey to Egypt on Tuesday. The ship was found to contain advanced weaponry, including anti-ship missiles labeled in Farsi, as well as manuals explaining how to use them in Farsi.
The ship was boarded by several teams of commandos from Flotilla 13, known as the Shayetet, and reached the Ashdod port overnight Tuesday.
Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.