Israel ‘expresses regret‘ for downed Russian jet, holds Syria responsible

IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis addressed the downing of the Russian plane in Syria on Tuesday after Moscow accused Israel of a hostile provocation and threatened to respond.

"Israel expresses its regret over the death of the crew members of the Russian plane that was downed tonight due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” read the statement released by the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.

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“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 organization accountable for this unfortunate incident."

Manelis confirmed that the IDF had struck a Syrian military facility from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“These weapons were meant to attack Israel and posed an intolerable threat against it,” he said on a call with reporters on Tuesday.

According to the preliminary investigation launched by the Israeli Air Force, the Russian Ilyushin military plane was not within the area of operation of Israeli jets, and when it was struck all Israeli jets which took part in the operation had already returned to Israeli territory.

“The Syrian anti-aircraft batteries fired indiscriminately and from what we understand, did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air,” Manelis said, adding that “the extensive and inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft missile fire cause the Russian plane to be hit.”

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An official from Russia’s Defense Ministry was quoted by TASS News that the plane went off the radar while four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in the Syrian province of Latakia.

Moscow accused Israel Tuesday morning of using the IL-20 as cover to carry out the strikes and said Israel warned them of the operation only one minute before.

"As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished," TASS news agency quoted Russian defense ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov as saying. "This absolutely does not correspond to the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership. We reserve the right to take commensurate measures in response."

Earlier on Tuesday the Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on social media that the Israeli ambassador had been called into her ministry in connection with what had happened near Syria.

Manelis denied the reports, saying that the de-conflication mechanism implemented with Russia over Syria to coordinate their actions in order avoid accidental clashes in Syrian airspace “was in use tonight like it has been in use in the past.”

Israel said that it will share all relevant information with the Russian government to review the incident and to confirm the facts of the inquiry.

Israel rarely comments on foreign reports of military activity in Syria but has .

According to the IDF, the strikes which mainly targeted advanced weapons systems and infrastructure belonging to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps were aimed at preventing Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that the shooting down of a Russian military plane near Syria was the result of a chain of tragic and chance circumstances.

Putin‘s comments appeared to somewhat soften Russia‘s criticism of Israel, though he said Russia still needed to look into what happened.

Speaking beside Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban following talks in Moscow, Putin said Russia‘s response to the incident would aim at securing the safety of Russian service people in Syria.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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