The government has warned that it has taken all necessary measures to defend itself against any further such violations.
Turkey scrambled two F-16 jets along the border between its southern Hatay province and Syria after warning the Mi-17 helicopter it was approaching Turkish airspace shortly before 2:30 p.m. (1130 GMT), the military said in a statement.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said a warplane shot down the helicopter after it ventured up to 2 kilometers into Turkey near the border town of Yayladağı. “It was repeatedly warned by our air defense elements,” he said.
It came down in a ball of flames inside Syrian territory after being hit, amateur video footage showed.
“Turkey will definitely not allow any violation of its borders. … We will defend our borders and our people’s security to the end,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters in Paris.
“No one will have the nerve to violate Turkey’s borders in any way again,” he said after a meeting to discuss Syria with US Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and their French counterpart, Laurent Fabius.
He said details of the incident would be provided to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN Security Council and fellow members of the NATO military alliance.
Turkey, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s fiercest critics, has advocated military intervention in Syria and grown frustrated over what it sees as Western indecisiveness.
It shares a 900-kilometer (560-mile) border with Syria and is sheltering a quarter of the 2 million people who have fled the Syrian conflict.
Turkish financial markets have been nervous about the prospect of outside intervention in Syria, fearing Turkey could be drawn into an escalating conflict.
The Turkish lira, which had earlier strengthened to below 2 to the dollar for the first time in almost three weeks partly on hopes for diplomacy over Syria, briefly weakened back above 2 on the news.
Following Syria’s downing of a Turkish jet in 2012, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the military’s rules of engagement had changed and that any Syrian element approaching the border would be deemed a threat and be treated as a military target.
“It was repeatedly warned by our air defense elements. When the violation continued, our planes … hit the helicopter at 14:27 with a missile causing it to fall on Syrian soil,” said Arınç in detailing the Turkish response to the violation by the Syrian helicopter.
After the violation, a number of Turkish fighter jets from a Malatya military air base were dispatched to the area and shot down the helicopter, Arınç said. The Turkish deputy prime minister also said Turkey has no information on the Syrian pilots as the helicopter fell on the Syrian side of the border.
Earlier reports said opposition fighters shot dead the two pilots after they ejected themselves after their chopper was hit.
Radar Track of Downing of Syrian Helicopter (graphic: Turkish Armed Forces)
Turkey’s military said in a statement that the helicopter had violated Turkish airspace at a time when two Turkish fighter jets were patrolling the area. After several warnings to the helicopter, the military said, one of the F-16s was ordered to shoot down the helicopter at 2:27 p.m.
Turkish fighter jet shot the Syrian helicopter on Turkish territory but the helicopter fell nearly 1 kilometer deep into the Syrian side of the border.
After a Turkish jet was downed, possibly by Syrian air defense units, near Syrian air space over the Mediterranean in June of last year, Turkey warned Syria that it would hit Syrian air force elements that got too near the Turkish border. In November of last year, Turkish fighter jets scrambled as a Syrian warplane bombed the town of Ras al-Ain near the Turkish border as part of an air assault to dislodge opposition fighters.
Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz said at the time that Turkey would use military force in response to any incursion by Syrian aircraft. “The necessary response will be given to Syrian planes and helicopters that violate our border,” Yılmaz said.
In response to stray bullets or shelling arriving from the Syrian side, Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) have on numerous occasions returned fire since the beginning of the civil war in Syria. In 2012, Turkish artillery fired on targets in Syria after Syrian shells landed inside Turkey and killed several Turkish civilians in one instance.
Turkey has bolstered its defenses and deployed additional troops on its southeastern border in recent weeks, with convoys of military vehicles ferrying equipment and personnel and additional short-range air defenses set up.
Its armed forces have frequently responded in kind to stray gunfire and mortar rounds hitting its territory and it is hosting six NATO Patriot missile batteries meant to defend it against any attacks from Syria.