Syrian missile accidentally brings down Russian plane, killing 15; Moscow blames Israel
A Syrian anti-aircraft missile inadvertently brought down a Russian reconnaissance plane on Tuesday, killing all 15 people on board and stoking tensions between Moscow and Israel.
Russian officials immediately blamed Israel for the incident, saying that Israeli pilots forced the Russian plane into the path of Syrian missiles over the Mediterranean Sea. Four Israeli planes were attacking Syrian targets in the Latakia province in the northwestern part of the country; the Russian I1-20 reconnaissance plane was also flying in the same area at the time, Russian officials said.
“The Israeli pilots were using the Russian aircraft as a shield and pushed it into the line of fire of the Syrian defense,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
The Ministry added that Israel is “fully to blame” for the incident, and said that Israel gave virtually no warning that it was about to conduct the strikes.
The two nations use a hotline in order to communicate about strikes in Syria and keep their forces from accidentally hitting each other. It’s unclear whether Israeli officials used the hotline before Tuesday’s incident.
Russian media said that Moscow “reserves the right to respond accordingly” following the deaths, though the Kremlin has taken a more reserved approach. A Kremlin spokesperson told reporters that Russian President is “analyzing the situation” and has nothing further to add right now.
Israel has routinely conducted airstrikes against Iranian and Hezbollah forces in Syria. Iranian forces back Syrian dictator Bashar Assad in the ongoing conflict.
The incident also comes just a day after Mr. Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced the creation of a demilitarized zone in Idlib, Syria, where it had been feared Mr. Assad would soon launch a bloody attack against rebel forces and potentially kill tens of thousands of civilians in the process.
Idlib is the last major rebel stronghold in the country, and an Assad-Russian victory there would all but end the nation’s civil war.
The deal announced Tuesday puts off a full-scale assault on the city while allowing Russian and Turkish forces to concentrate on rooting out terrorists.