Moscow summons envoy, says Israel ‘fully to blame’ for downing of Russian plane

Moscow is blaming Israel and summoned Israel’s ambassador and threatened “countermeasures” after a Syrian missile caused a Russian aircraft to crash, killing all 15 passengers.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

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) off the coast late Monday as it was returning to its home base nearby.

“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.

Russian state television quoted a Defense Ministry statement as saying that Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, that Israel is “fully to blame” for the deaths, after which Moscow summoned Israel’s ambassador over the “provocation.”

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.

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A recovery operation in the Mediterranean Sea is underway, Konashenkov said.

Russian news agencies later in the day quoted the ministry as saying that a rescue team has located the wreckage in the sea and has retrieved some bodies and some fragments of the wreckage.

Both the Israeli military and Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined comment on the Russian claim.

IDF says jets were inside Israel

“Israel expresses regret over the death of the crew of the Russian plane that was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” the IDF stated, adding that its jets were all back inside Israeli territory at the time of the incident.

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 has two military bases in the country, including one close to the Mediterranean coast.

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.

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Throughout the fighting, 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 perspective.

“I think it will impose very serious restriction on Israel’s freedom of activity,” she said.