Turkey Finds Bodies of Downed Pilots

Military officials in Ankara say they have located the remains of two pilots downed by Syria on July 22; working to recover them from seabed

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Gabe Kahn,

A Turkish F-16 fighter jet leaves its hangar
A Turkish F-16 fighter jet leaves its hangar

Turkey's military said Wednesday it has found the bodies of the two pilots of a jet shot down by Syria last month.

Military officials in Ankara said personnel were working on retrieving the bodies from the Mediterranean seabed.

The military had been searching for the pilots since their jet was shot down by Syria on June 22.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has voiced regret over the incident, saying Syrian forces learned that the surveillance aircraft belonged to Turkey only after it was struck.

His remarks were buttressed by a Russian military official on Wednesday who said the Turkish jet entered Syrian airspace to test Damascus' air defenses.

The official told the Interfax news agency that Russian intelligence had observed the violation of Syrian airspace and shootdown on radar.

The incident has sparked outrage in Turkey, which deployed additional military forces on the Syrian frontier following the incident.

Syria mirrored Ankara's move with its own military deployments along the border earlier this week.

The incident has brought flagging relations between the former allies to a boiling point, with the leaders of both nations publicly brandishing bellicose barbs.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised Damascus will suffer 'consequences for the incident.

For his part, Assad has accused Erdogan of being a demagogue who is playing to the media and making problems where they don't exist.

"The way out is that the Turkish government corrects the mistakes it made in dealing with the Syrian situation," Assad said. "Not manipulating or exploiting any event in order to create big problems, and putting the interests of the Syrian and Turkish people before the narrow personal interests of their officials."

Assad, whose embattled regime has waged a bloody 16-month crackdown on a popular uprising against his 11-year rule, aslo openly accused Ankara of supporting the rebels of the Free Syrian Army.

The "Turkish government started to get involved in the bloody events in Syria by providing logistic support to the terrorists who have been killing innocent people," Assad charged, noting the senior commanders of the FSA are operating unhindered on the Turkish side of the border.

Rights officials say some 16,500 people – most of them civilians – have been killed in the now-civil war rocking Syria.