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Russia blames Israel after jet downed off Syria

Los Angeles Times
September 18. 2018 8:01PM

JERUSALEM -- Russian officials Tuesday blamed Israel for the downing of a Russian military aircraft near Syria’s Mediterranean coast that killed 15 people, even though the plane was shot down by Syrian air defenses.

The aircraft, an Ilyushin Il-20 reconnaissance turboprop, disappeared from radar screens late Monday night as it was approaching Hemeimeem, home to a Russian military base located 13 miles southeast of Latakia. The disappearance occurred around the same time four Israeli F-16 fighters were conducting a missile attack near the Syrian coastal city, said Russian defense ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov, according to a report by Russian state-news operator TASS.

The Il-20’s wreckage was later found in the sea 22 miles southwest of Hemeimeem, said Russia’s defense military spokesman Igor Konashenkov on Tuesday. He added it had been shot down by a Syrian anti-aircraft artillery system retaliating against the Israeli strike.

“By using the Russian plane as cover, the Israeli air pilots made it vulnerable to Syrian air defense fire,” said Konashenkov, according to TASS.

“As a result, the Ilyushin-20, its reflective surface being far greater than that of the F-16, was downed by a missile launched with the S-200 system.”

Konashenkov insisted the Israelis “could not but see the Russian plane, which was approaching the runway from an altitude of (3 miles).”

Israel gave warning on a hotline set up with Russia “less than one minute before the strike,” Konashenkov continued, “which left no chance for getting the Russian plane to safety.”

“We view these provocative steps by Israel as hostile. Due to the Israeli military’s irresponsible actions, 15 Russian servicemen were killed,” Konashenkov said.

“This is absolutely against the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership. We reserve the right to take adequate tit-for-tat steps.”

In an unusual move, the Israeli military acknowledged it had conducted the airstrike on Syrian territory controlled by the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Israeli army spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis issued a statement expressing Israel’s “sorrow for the death of the aircrew members of the Russian plane that was downed tonight due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire.”

He added that Israeli planes had targeted overnight Syrian army installations “from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

“These weapons were meant to attack Israel, and posed an intolerable threat against it.”

The United States, meanwhile, expressed sorrow for the fatalities. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo said in a statement that the “unfortunate incident reminds us of the need to find permanent, peaceful, and political resolutions to the many overlapping conflicts in the region and the danger of tragic miscalculation in Syria’s crowded theater of operations.”

Pompeo said the incident underscored the need to resolve “Iran’s provocative transit of dangerous weapon systems through Syria, which are a threat to the region.”

Israel has long accused Iran of using Syria as a conduit to funnel weapons to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant group and political faction with whom Israel went to war in 2006.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu informed his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, on Tuesday that Moscow held Israel “wholly to blame” for the shootdown.

Israel, for its part, held “the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident” adding that it also “holds Iran and the Hezbollah terror organization accountable for this unfortunate incident.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in a news conference in Moscow, said the incident looked “like a chain of tragic circumstances,” according to a report by the state-run English-news broadcaster Russia Today.

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