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Russia blames Israel for downing of military jet by Syrian air defenses

FILE - This photo provided early Thursday, May 10, 2018, by the government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media, shows missiles rise into the sky as Israeli missiles hit air defense position and other military bases, in Damascus, Syria.
Syrian Central Military Media, via AP
Monitor says strike on ammunition depots blamed on Israel kills two fighters

Russia's ministry of defense confirmed on Tuesday that one of its military jets was accidentally shot down by Syrian government air defenses as they confronted four Israeli F-16s in the coastal region of Latakia, killing 15 Russian servicemen.

Israeli pilots carrying out attacks on Syrian targets "used the Russian plane as a cover, exposing it to fire from Syrian air defenses," a statement by the Russian military said.

Moscow accused Israel of "deliberate provocations" in Latakia and blamed the Israeli air force for "pushing" the Russian Il-20 military jet into the line of Syrian missiles.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told his Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman Tuesday that Moscow may consider measures to respond to the downing of a Russian plane over Syria, as he lay "full" blame on Israel's air force.

"The full blame for the shot-down Russian plane and death of the crew is on the Israeli side," Shoigu told Lieberman in a phone call, according to a ministry statement, adding that Russia "reserves the right to future response measures."

Russia, which is backing Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's government forces in the country's civil war, has largely given Israeli warplanes a free hand over Syrian skies turning a blind eye to frequent strikes on Iran-backed forces and armaments.

The two countries operate a direct military coordination mechanism meant to limit accidental clashes due to conflicting interests. But Moscow claimed it was warned of the Israeli strike only one minute before it was carried out, which "did not allow for the Russian plane to be moved to a safe zone."

A search and rescue operation for the remains of the Russian plane was ongoing.

JACK GUEZ (AFP/File)

Russia's defense ministry said early Tuesday it had lost connection with an Il-20 military jet some 35 kilometers from the Syrian coast over the Mediterranean Sea as it was returning to the Hmeimim airbase at the same time as Israeli F-16s pounded infrastructure in the Assad-stronghold of Latakia.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the strike targeted ammunition depots on the site of the technical industries institute and killed two fighters.

Syrian state television broadcast scenes that showed a dark night sky lit up by a flashes of light lasting several minutes.

Head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP that "violent explosions were caused by missiles targeting ammunition depots in the technical industries institute".

He said the site on the eastern outskirts of Latakia belonged to government forces, but added it was unclear whether the depots were being used by regime troops or those of key ally Iran.

The Syrian government regularly accuses Israel of targeting its military positions. Israel rarely comments on alleged strikes in Syria.

PlanetLabs

On Saturday an Israeli missile attack targeted Syria's capital airport, SANA said, activating air defenses which shot down a number of the projectiles.

An image provided to i24NEWS by PlanetLabs, a satellite imagery company, showed damage to the airport's military apron next to a cargo flight that had recently landed from Tehran, according to flight tracking data.

Syrian state media on September 4 said its air defenses had downed several Israeli missiles in the coastal province of Tartus and in central Hama.

This month, Israel acknowledged having carried out more than 200 strikes in war-ravaged Syria over the past 18 months, mainly against Iranian targets.

It has also admitted to striking Syria to prevent what it says are deliveries of advanced weaponry to Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, which fights alongside Syrian troops and is an arch-foe of Israel.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that some 140 Iranians and their allies have been killed in suspected Israeli air strikes over the last five months.

Syria's conflict erupted in 2011 and has since killed more than 360,000 people, with millions more displaced internally and to neighboring countries.

(Staff with AFP)

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