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Russia says military plane carrying 15 people shot down by Syrian missiles | World news | The Guardian

Russian defence ministry says Israeli pilots put aircraft in path of Syrian air defence systems in a ‘deliberate provocation’

A Russian military aircraft with 15 people onboard has been shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft defences, the Russian defence ministry has said.

The ministry blamed Israel’s “irresponsible actions” for the incident, however, saying Israeli pilots put the aircraft in the path of Syrian air defence systems in a “deliberate provocation”.

A search for the Russian Il-20 was initiated after contact was lost about 35km off the coast of Syria at about 11pm local time (2000 GMT) on Monday.

In a statement, a Russian military spokesman said that Israeli F-16 pilots were using the Russian plane as cover while carrying out missile strikes against targets in Syria’s Latakia province and put it in the line of fire from Syrian anti-aircraft batteries.

“We retain the right to an appropriate response,” the spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, said, without giving details on whether that response could include military action.

Syria said its anti-air batteries had fired at incoming missiles from the sea that were heading towards several locations in the coastal city of Latakia.

“Air defences have confronted enemy missiles coming from the sea in the direction of the Latakia city, and intercepted a number of them,” the state news agency Sana quoted a military source as saying.

A US official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the US government believed Syrian defences may have accidentally shot down the Russian aircraft while firing at incoming Israeli missiles. Hmeimim airbase, the Russian-operated facility in Syria to which the missing plane was returning, is located south-east of Latakia city.

“The missiles were not fired by the US military and we have nothing further at this time,” a spokesperson for the Pentagon told the Guardian. France also denied involvement after Russia said it was mounting attacks on Syria targets at the time of the incident.

The Israeli military, contacted before Russia said it was to blame, said it did not comment on “foreign reports”. 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.

A search-and-rescue source told the Russian Interfax news agency that the warplane could have sunk in the Mediterranean Sea as a result of an “unforeseen critical incident” in the air.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that monitors the conflict, said huge explosions were heard in the Latakia on Monday night, wounding more than 10 people, whom they identified as “regime forces and military personnel”.

Russia’s military operation in Syria, which began in late 2015, has turned the tide of the conflict in favour of Moscow’s ally, the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, in his fight against rebels.

At the same time, Israel’s air force has launched scores of attacks on Syrian territory in a campaign it says is to prevent its arch-enemy and Assad’s ally, Iran, from gaining a military foothold in a neighbouring country. The strikes have also targeted arms shipments in Syria to Lebanon’s Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement.

In April, France joined the US and Britain to launch more than 100 missiles at what they said were Syrian chemical weapons facilities in retaliation for a suspected poison attack. A senior French army chief said this month that Paris was ready to strike again under similar circumstances.

Sorgente: Russia says military plane carrying 15 people shot down by Syrian missiles | World news | The Guardian

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