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Syrian conflict

Putin says Syria shooting down Russian plane was accident after defence ministry blamed Israel

Russian president said a ‘chain of tragic accidental circumstances’ caused friendly fire incident and not Israelis

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 9:52am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 September, 2018, 11:23pm

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances” led to the downing by Syria of a Russian warplane with 15 people on board, dismissing accusations from his own Defence Ministry that it was Israel’s fault.

“It rather looks like a chain of tragic accidental circumstances,” he told reporters.

Earlier the ministry blamed Israel and warned of reprisals.

But Putin backed away from the statement.

“An Israeli jet did not shoot down our plane,” he said. “No doubt we should seriously look into this [incident].”

He expressed condolences to the families of the victims, calling the accident a “tragedy for us all”.

The Defence Ministry said the IL-20 reconnaissance aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft batteries belonging to Moscow’s ally, Syria. But it held Israel responsible because Israeli fighters were attacking Syrian targets and had only given Moscow a minute’s warning, putting the Russian aircraft in danger of being caught in the crossfire.

“We view the actions of the Israeli military as hostile,” Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian state television. “As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished.”

The Israeli military blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the deaths.

“Israel expresses sorrow for the deaths of the aircrew members of the Russian plane that was downed … due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” a military statement said in Israel’s first reaction to the incident. “Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident. Israel also holds Iran and the Hezbollah terror organisation accountable for this unfortunate incident.”

Israel has conducted frequent raids in recent months against Syria’s military infrastructure, including bases it claims host Iranian soldiers. Earlier in September, Israel admitted carrying out 200 strikes in Syria over the past 18 months.

Moscow said its plane disappeared from radar screens as it was coming in to land at the Hmeymim airbase in western Syria late on Monday, just as Israeli jets and French naval vessels, including frigate The Auvergne, were mounting attacks on targets in the same area of Syria.

France denied launching any missile strikes.

According to the ministry, the Israeli F-16 jets carrying out the air strikes used the Russian plane as cover to allow them to approach their targets on the ground without being hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

“Hiding behind the Russian aircraft, the Israeli pilots put it in the line of fire of Syrian anti-aircraft systems. As a result, the Il-20 … was shot down by the [Syrian] S-200 missile system,” Konashenkov said.

He said the Israeli pilots “could not have failed to see the Russian aircraft, as it was coming in to land from a height of 5km (three miles). Nevertheless, they deliberately carried out this provocation,” Konashenkov said.

“This absolutely does not correspond to the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership,” he added. “We reserve the right to take commensurate measures in response.”

Reuters, Agence France-Presse