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Syria accidentally shoots down Russian plane instead of Israeli fighter jet, killing 15

Russian Ilyushin IL-20, a military surveillance aircraft. (Dmitry Terekhov/Flickr)
September 18, 2018

A Russian surveillance plane was inadvertently shot down by a Syrian missile late Monday night, killing 15 crew members.

Russia confirmed the plane, an IL-20 military aircraft, was shot down, and blamed Israel for the incident over alleged poor positioning that pushed the Russian aircraft into Syria’s crosshairs, CNN reported Tuesday.

Russian Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, spokesperson for the Russian military, said, “The Israeli pilots were using the Russian aircraft as a shield and pushed it into the line of fire of the Syrian defense.”

Four Israeli fighter jets launched attacks in northwest Syria. The Russian military says it was unaware of the strikes and received no warnings from Israel until a minute ahead of the strike, leaving insufficient time to safely leave the zone.

“As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian servicemen were killed, which is absolutely not in keeping with the spirit of Russian-Israeli partnership,” Konashenkov added.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said, “We reserve the right for further reciprocal steps.”

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) released a statement on the incident, in which they said Syrian anti-aircraft units “fired indiscriminately and from what we understand did not bother to ensure no Russian planes were in the air.”

Israel said that the Russian aircraft was not in the area at the time they launched attacks on Syrian targets. The Russian aircraft was shot down later when Israeli fighter jets had left the area.

Syria used the same anti-aircraft system they purchased from Russia in recent years, according to a U.S. official.

“Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident,” the statement said. It also placed blame on Iran and Hezbollah. “These weapons were meant to attack Israel, and posed an intolerable threat against it,” it added.

Although Israel has decisively chosen a side in the Syrian conflict, it has participated in airstrikes against Iran and Hezbollah in its goal to eliminate Iran’s military presence in Syria. Israel said they have launched at least 200 airstrikes on Syria over the past 18 months.

On Monday, Russia and Turkey agreed to create a demilitarized buffer zone in Idlib, Syria, to separate government and rebel fighters.

Syria’s civil was has been ongoing for seven years; the government led by Bashar al-Assad is backed by Russia and Vladimir Putin, and the rebel fighters are backed by Turkey.

Idlib is one of the last rebel-held strongholds in the country.

The zone would range from 9 to 15 miles wide and be in effect Oct. 15, and all heavy weaponry would be removed from the zone.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, called the agreement “a landmark and crucial agreement for Syria’s future,” CNN reported. That agreement is reportedly unchanged by the shooting-down incident.

The Russian Ministry of Defense said recovery efforts are already underway. Crews located the wreckage and began retrieving bodies and pieces of the plane.