A Russian military plane carrying 15 servicemen was shot down Monday by a Russian-built air defense system operated by Syrian forces trying to repel airstrikes from Israeli fighter jets.
Moscow said the Ilyushin-20 surveillance plane was hit 35 kilometers off the Syrian coast at 11 p.m. Moscow time (3 p.m. EST) by a missile that was targeting an Israeli F-16 fighter.
"By using the Russian plane as a cover the Israeli air pilots made it vulnerable to Syrian air defense fire. As a result, the Ilyushin-20, its reflective surface being far greater than that of F-16, was downed by a missile launched with the S-200 system," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
For several years, Russia and Israel have maintained a hotline to prevent this type of situation, but the Kremlin slammed Israel Tuesday for giving just a minute’s warning about the attack.
“We regard the provocative actions of Israel as hostile,” Konashenkov said. “As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian servicemen were killed. This is absolutely not in keeping with the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership. We reserve the right to an appropriate response.”
The Israeli attack took place over Latakia, Syria’s main port on the western coast. The Israeli fighter jets were reportedly targeting an ammunition dump located in the compound of the state Institute for Technical Industries.
The Israeli military declined to comment Tuesday, saying it does not remark on “foreign reports.”
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, 10 members of the Syrian regime’s forces were wounded in the airstrikes, with some in a critical condition.
Initial reports from Syrian state TV blamed the attack on French and U.S. forces, but both sides denied any involvement. A Pentagon spokesman said: "The missiles were not fired by the U.S. military and we have nothing further at this time.” A French military spokesman told the AFP news agency: “The French army denies any involvement in this attack.”
Over the last year and a half Israel has carried out some 200 airstrikes on Syria using more than 800 munitions, according to a Sept. 4 report published by Israeli Defence Forces.
The accidental strike on a military plane came just hours after Russia and Turkey agreed to create a buffer zone in nearby Idlib province, a move many hoped would prevent yet another humanitarian catastrophe in the war-torn country.
Cover image: A photo taken on July 23, 2006 shows an Russian IL-20M (Ilyushin 20m) plane landing at an unknown location. (NIKITA SHCHYUKIN/AFP/Getty Images)