Saturday 28 November 2015

TURKEY: Russian Travel Agents Stop Selling Package Tours To Turkey, Reimburse 6,000 Tourists

Britain's U.N. ambassador says Turkey's downing of a Russian fighter jet must lead to redoubled efforts to end the Syrian conflict.Matthew Rycroft said that the longer the conflict goes on, "the more scope there is for these sorts of incidents to happen, and they are very dangerous."

He said the way to end the conflict is by implementing the 2012 Geneva communique calling for a transitional government in Syria and the way to speed this is through the Vienna talks involving about 20 key parties which have spurred "some momentum."

Rycroft said a lot of work is taking place on defining terrorism, uniting the opposition, preparing for a cease-fire and who would monitor it ahead of the next round of talks in December.

Israel's Tourism Ministry is investing an extra $2.6 million to attract Russian tourists after crises in Egypt and Turkey.

Ministry spokeswoman Michal Gerstler says Israel has focused on Russia for a month "in an attempt to create an alternative."

Russian tour agencies suspended sales of packages to Turkey after Turkish warplanes shot down a Russian jet along the Syrian border on Tuesday. Some 4.5 million Russian tourists visit Turkey each year.Russia suspended passenger flights to Egypt after the Oct. 31 crash of a passenger plane in the Sinai Peninsula that killed all 224 people on board, nearly all of them Russians.

Russia said the plane was downed by a bomb, and the Islamic State group claimed the attack.Gerstler said Wednesday that Israel will woo Russians through online ad campaigns and other marketing channels.

European Council President Donald Tusk has ruled out the possibility of a coalition with Russia in Syria as long it targets moderate Syrian opposition groups. Tusk said Wednesday that the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey on Tuesday "underlines the difficult situation in Syria where there are different actors with different interests conducting different operations with different aims."

He said there is only one way to avoid such incidents in the future and that is to concentrate all resources on the fight against the Islamic State group.He said "this should be a common objective" and "there will be never be a coalition to fight the moderate Syrian opposition. Everybody needs to understand that."

Iran is lashing out at Turkey over the shooting down of a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian border, saying Ankara is responsible for heightened tensions in the region. Iran and Russia are key allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkey is a leading supporter of the rebels fighting to overthrow him.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said these "provocative actions and their many legal consequences are the responsibility of the initiator." He adds that "on the basis of the information we have up to now, the plane was involved in operations in the Syrian airspace."

Iran's parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, as calling the downing of the Russian jet a "big mistake." Turkey says it fired on the jet after it intruded into its airspace.

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg says the downing of a Russian plane by alliance member Turkey "highlights the need to strengthen the mechanisms to avoid such incidents in the future."

Stoltenberg wrote in an op-ed piece scheduled to be published Thursday in a number of leading European newspapers that "we should not sleepwalk into unintended escalation." Stoltenberg said the incident Tuesday requires "calm and diplomacy," and shows the need to update longstanding agreements meant to guarantee a maximum degree of transparency and predictability for military activities in Europe.

The NATO chief accused Russia of walking away from some of those accords, or exploiting their loopholes.

He added that "this is not a new Cold War," but it is "a wakeup call."

Turkey's state-run news agency and Syrian activists say airstrikes on the Syrian town of Azaz near the Turkish border hit an aid convoy. The Anadolu agency says seven people were killed and 10 wounded in strikes that it said hit a convoy taking supplies to refugees in Azaz on Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear if the strikes were carried out by Russian or Syrian warplanes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported earlier intensive Russian airstrikes in Azaz.

France's lower house of Parliament is debating whether to extend airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria after the group claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks in Paris. The government is trying to rally global action against the group.

French fighter jets joined the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State extremists in Iraq in 2014, and expanded their mission to Islamic State targets in Syria in September. President Francois Hollande cited specific threats against French interests stemming from IS in Syria.

France's National Assembly is debating whether to extend the campaign in Syria, and the Senate is scheduled to debate it as well. The measure is expected to pass in both houses, amid national concern following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris.

A Russian pilot who has survived the downing of his warplane says Turkish jets did not issue any warnings. Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin said Wednesday on Russian television that his plane was flying over Syrian territory and didn't violate Turkish airspace.

Muravkin was rescued early Wednesday by Russian and Syrian commando and was speaking in televised comments from the Russian Hemeimeem air base in Syria

Syrian rebels say Russian forces are pounding insurgent-held areas in Syria's Latakia province, unleashing a wave of airstrikes on mountains near where a Russian jet was shot down the previous day.

Jahed Ahmad, a spokesman for a rebel brigade in the region affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, says the Russians appear to be taking "revenge" for the plane's downing by Turkey, a key backer of the rebels in the area.

Speaking from inside Syria via Skype on Wednesday, he says the Russian jets were providing cover for advancing Syrian ground forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies. Syrian TV also reported advances by Syrian forces in Lattakia province Wednesday.

The Russian Association of Travel Agencies says several Russian agencies have stopped selling package tours to Turkey.

Turkey, along with Egypt, has long been a top destination for Russian tourists.

The travel industry group said in a statement Wednesday that several major travel agencies are no longer selling tours to Turkey following an official travel warning about a potential threat to Russian citizens there. The move comes a day after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane near the Syrian border, provoking Moscow's indignation.

Travel association vice president Dmitry Gorin was quoted by the state-run RIA Novosti news agency as saying he expects the agencies will have to reimburse to 6,000 tourists whose vacations will be cancelled.

Protesters have hurled eggs and stones at the Turkish embassy in Moscow a day after Turkey shot down a Russian warplane Tuesday near the Syrian border. Windows at the embassy's compound were shattered and eggs pelted against the walls on Wednesday after a protest there went sour. Police cleared the area and made some arrests shortly after the protest began.

All the protesters seem to have left by Wednesday late afternoon, and the utilities services were cleaning the area.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry says the foreign ministers of Turkey and Russia have agreed to meet for talks over the downing of a Russian warplane. Russia's foreign minister, however, said that a meeting hadn't been confirmed.

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said in a written statement that Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov agreed to a meeting "in the coming days," during a telephone conversation Wednesday.

Bilgic said during their conversation, Cavusoglu briefed Lavrov on Turkey's action. The two agreed to share details on the incident through "diplomatic and military channels."

But Lavrov said during a live TV interview that they had no concrete plans for a meeting. Lavrov said that Cavusoglu suggested they could meet at the sidelines of some event, but added that he has no such plans.

Russia's foreign minister says that "terrorists" have used Turkish territory to prepare attacks in other countries. Sergey Lavrov didn't name specific groups or countries. He said Wednesday that the downing of a Russian warplane on Tuesday followed Russian airstrikes on the oil infrastructure of extremists groups in Syria near the border with Turkey.

Russia's foreign minister says the downing of a Russian war plane by Turkey was a "planned provocation."

Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow will re-consider relations with Ankara following the shooting down of the plane on the Turkey-Syria border on Tuesday, but he didn't say what specific measures Russia would take.

Lavrov said "we have no intention to go to war with Turkey." Lavrov added that "our attitude to the Turkish people hasn't changed. "We only have questions about the Turkish leadership." He also said that advice to Russian citizens to refrain from visiting Turkey issued on Tuesday was based on extremist threats in Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is seeking to reduce tensions with Moscow, saying that Russia is Turkey's "friend and neighbor" and insisting relations cannot be "sacrificed to accidents of communication."

Davutoglu told his party's lawmakers on Wednesday that Turkey didn't know the nationality of the plane that was brought down on Tuesday until Moscow announced it was Russian. He again defended Turkey's action, saying Russia was warned on several occasions that Turkey would take action in case its border is violated in line with its military rules of engagement.

Davutoglu also said Russia is an "important partner and tops the list of countries with which we have shown great sensitivity in building ties." The Turkish prime minister, however, also criticized Russian and Syrian operations in Syria's Turkmen region, saying there is "not one single" presence of the Islamic State group there. Davutoglu demanded that operations there stop immediately.

Syria's army is confirming that it has rescued a Russian pilot whose plane was shot down by Turkey in an overnight qualitative joint operation with Russian forces.

A statement issued Wednesday by the Syrian armed forces says Syrian and Russian forces penetrated into areas where "terrorists" are entrenched at a depth of 4.5 kilometers (2.7 miles) to rescue the pilot. Syria's government refers to all rebels trying to topple President Bashar Assad as terrorists.

The statement added that the rescued pilot is in "good health." Russian officials have confirmed the rescue operation.

The other pilot of the Su-24 jet downed Tuesday by Turkey was reported dead and his body captured by Syrian rebels in an area known as the Turkmen Mountain in Syria's Latakia province.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the downing of a Russian warplane "has further aggravated the situation in Syria." Merkel told lawmakers in parliament on Wednesday that "we have to do everything now to avoid a further escalation."

Merkel says she had spoken to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in a telephone call Tuesday. She adds that only a long-term political solution will end the conflict in Syria. She says "there is no other way that will bring us closer to a lasting solution

Russian President Vladimir Putin says a second pilot from a Russian warplane that was shot down by Turkey near the Syrian border has been rescued. Putin was speaking in televised comments on Wednesday after Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Russian news agencies that the man was rescued in a 12-hour operation which ended in the early hours on Wednesday and is now "safe and sound" at Russia's air base in the government-controlled area in Syria. The other pilot of the Su-24 jet was reported dead.

Russia's defense minister says that Moscow will send its news anti-aircraft missiles to Syria following Turkey's downing of a Russian warplane on Tuesday. Russian news agencies on Wednesday quoted Sergei Shoigu as saying that the S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems would be sent to the Hemeimeem air base in the government-controlled area which Moscow uses for its Air Force sorties.

S-400s were first put on active combat duty in Russia in 2007. Shoigu's statement comes a day after Turkey shot down a Russian Su-24 on mission near the Syria border. One of the pilots was killed by ground fire as he parachuted from his crippled plane, the Russian general staff said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his country does not wish to escalate tensions with Russia over the downing of the plane. Speaking at an Organization of Islamic Cooperation economy meeting in Istanbul, Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey favors "peace, dialogue and diplomacy."

Erdogan however defended his country's move to shoot down the plane saying "no one should expect Turkey to stay silent to border violations or the violation of its rights." Turkey said the Russian warplane was shot down on Tuesday after it ignored repeated warnings and crossed into its airspace from Syria.

Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced what he called a "stab in the back" and warned of "significant consequences."

A Syria watchdog says a Russian military pilot whose plane was shot down by Turkey has arrived at a Russian air base in Latakia province after being rescued by the Syrian army.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says a Syrian army commando unit staged a rescue operation for the pilot after pinpointing his location. It said the pilot is alive and arrived Wednesday morning at the Hemeimeem air base, near the city of Latakia. No other details were immediately available.

Syrian TV only quoted Russia's ambassador to France as saying the pilot is in the hands of the Syrian army. The Russian warplane was shot down by Turkey Tuesday. A second pilot was killed.

Russia's ambassador to France says a Russian military pilot shot down over Turkey is in the hands of the Syrian army.

Ambassador Alexander Orlov said on Europe-1 radio Wednesday that one of the pilots was wounded, then killed on the ground by "jihadists."

He says the other "managed to escape and be rescued by the Syrian army." He didn't elaborate.

Orlov denied Turkish government statements that the Russian plane had been warned repeatedly about an airspace violation before shooting it down plane. Orlov accused Turkey of being an "accomplice" of Islamic State extremists and playing an ambiguous role in Syria's civil war.

However he played down concerns of escalation of violence among the international players involved in Syria.

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