Russia: Israel Shot Down Plane 09/18 06:25
MOSCOW (AP) -- A Russian reconnaissance aircraft was brought down by a
Syrian missile over the Mediterranean, killing all 15 people on board, the
Russian defense ministry said Tuesday. It blamed Israel for the crash, saying
the plane was caught in the crossfire as four Israeli fighters attacked targets
in northwestern Syria.
The Russian military said that the Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft was hit 35
kilometers (22 miles) offshore late Monday as it was returning to its home base
"The Israeli pilots were using the Russian aircraft as a shield and pushed
it into the line of fire of the Syrian defense," Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen.
Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor
Lieberman, later on Tuesday to say that Israel is "fully to blame" for the
deaths, the ministry said.
The military said Israel did not warn it of its operation over Latakia
province until one minute before the strike, which did not give the Russian
plane enough time to escape.
Both the Israeli military and Israel's Foreign Ministry declined comment on
the Russian claim.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a recovery operation in the Mediterranean
Sea is underway and that it has already located the wreckage in the sea and has
retrieved some bodies and some fragments of the plane.
The Kremlin sounded cautious in the aftermath of the attack, refusing to
comment on a potential row with Israel.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters that
the Kremlin is "analyzing the situation" and does not want to speak further at
For several years, Israel and Russia have maintained a special hotline to
prevent their air forces from clashing in the skies over Syria. Israeli
military officials have previously praised its effectiveness.
Russia has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and it has two
military bases in the country, including one close to the Mediterranean coast.
Russia's dramatic entry into the Syrian civil war in 2015 in support of the
Syrian government, after a year of airstrikes by the U.S. and its coalition
partners against the Islamic State group, increased the specter of dangerous
confrontations in the skies over Syria.
Turkey's troops are also on the ground in northern Syria and are patrolling
the skies over the region as Ankara seeks to ramp up its influence there and
curb the expansion of Syrian Kurdish-controlled territory.
Israel has refrained from taking sides in the Syrian civil war. But it has
acknowledged carrying out scores of airstrikes against archenemy Iran and its
Shiite proxy Hezbollah.
Israel has also acknowledged attacking Iranian targets some 200 times.
Israel has warned that it will not allow Iran to establish a permanent military
presence in postwar Syria.
Throughout the fighting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has
maintained continuous contact with Russia. Netanyahu frequently travels to
Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin to discuss the Syria issue.
Sima Shine, a former senior Mossad official and ex-deputy director-general
at the Strategic Affairs Ministry, told Israel's Army Radio station that the
shooting down is problematic both militarily and internally from a Russian
"I think it will impose very serious restriction on Israel's freedom of
activity," she said.
The plane crashed only hours after the leaders of Russia and Turkey reached
an agreement to avert an all-out offensive by government forces to retake
Syria's last remaining rebel stronghold in Idlib.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on Tuesday called the deal "a landmark and
crucial agreement for Syria's future" and said the shooting down of the plane
will have no impact on that deal.
In Damascus, Syria's foreign ministry welcomed the agreement, while vowing
that it will continue the fight against "terrorism until liberating the last
inch of the Syrian territory, whether through military operations or through
Iran also welcomed the agreement, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
tweeting: "Diplomacy works."