JERUSALEM, Israel -- An investigation into the downing of a Turkish warplane by Syria in June has created more questions than answers. The incident further strained relations between the two neighbors at a time when Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime has been mounting a brutal crackdown against rebel forces for more than a year and a half ago.
The recent report by the Turkish Military Prosecutor's Office blamed a Syrian missile for the June 22 crash of a Turkish warplane. Traces of missile material found on the plane's wreckage convinced investigators the exploding missile caused the crash even without a direct hit.
"Parts of the retrieved plane wreck were given a metallurgic examination and traces of potassium chlorate, which is used as an oxidizing agent in missile fuels and as the main substance in missile warheads, were found splashed on the plane's fuselage," the report stated.
Now investigators are questioning the presence of a Russian fleet in Syrian waters, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reported on Friday.
"If we wind back the film from the beginning and analyze it in a timeline, you will realize that some parts are still missing," an unnamed Turkish defense industry official told the newspaper.
"The plane was shot down north of Syria, but it was a Lebanese media outlet that first announced the news, not the Syrians. One must ask how Lebanon learned of the event before the Syrians. Secondly (the) Syrians stated they had no radar image, the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft weapon as it was flying near Syrian territory."
"The existence of a Russian fleet and its capacity to hit a Turkish plane bring some hesitations to mind," the official continued.
"If we are certain that the plane was downed by a blast effect, then we are talking about a missile. It also brings the question of type. Which missile? A long-range missile fired from Syrian territory would have appeared on Turkish radar. Short-range may not appear on radar but it could not reach the plane either," he said.
"We have to ask what kind of medium-range (missile) can be fired from the sea. This option brings the Russian fleet to mind as a Syrian navy barely exists," he concluded.
Syria claimed the plane was shot down in its airspace by anti-aircraft fire, but Turkey said it went down in international airspace near the Turkish-Syrian border. The two pilots were reportedly rescued from the Mediterranean.