Turkey has shot down a Syrian fighter jet near its border Sunday after the plane crossed into Turkish air space, according to local officials.
Syrian activists said the incident occurred close to an area where Syrian rebels have been battling President Bashar al-Assad's forces for control of a border crossing between the two countries, Reuters reported.
A statement from the Turkish military on Sunday said that two Syrian MIG-23 aircraft flew towards the Turkish border and issued four warnings. One aircraft heeded the warnings and changed course, while the other flew for about, the military said.
One plane entered Turkish airspace at Yayladagi, east of the Kasab border crossing, it said. A Turkish F-16 fired a rocket at the Syrian jet and it crashed about 1,300 yards inside Syrian territory, officials said.
"A Syrian plane violated our airspace," Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan later told an election rally in northwest Turkey. "Our F-16s took off and hit this plane. Why? Because if you violate my airspace, our slap after this will be hard."
He added, "I congratulate our armed forces and honorable pilots in your presence. I congratulate the Turkish air forces."
The rebels have been fighting since Friday for control of the Kasab crossing, one of several counter-offensives since they retreated this week from a crusader castle near the Lebanese frontier and town on a vital cross-border supply route.
Authorities in Damascus say this week's Islamist rebel offensive around the Kasab border crossing marked a new escalation, accusing Turkey of firing tank and artillery shells into Syria to provide cover for the fighters.
A source at Syria's foreign ministry called Turkey's actions "unprecedented and unjustified", state news agency SANA said, according to Reuters.
NBC News' Ammar Cheikhomar, Hasani Gittens and Reuters contributed to this report.
Anadolu Agency / Getty Images Contributor
A Syrian warplane made crash in Latakia, near the Turkish border, by the Turkish Air Forces due to border violation, March 23, 2104.
First published March 23 2014, 6:05 AM