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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

Assad blames Israel over downing of Russian plane

IL-20 aircraft was destroyed by Syria’s Russian-made S-200 air defence system and all aboard were killed

Vladimir Putin has accepted Israel's offer to share information about the raid that that led to the plane's loss. AP
Vladimir Putin has accepted Israel's offer to share information about the raid that that led to the plane's loss. AP

President Bashar Al Assad on Wednesday blamed Israel for the downing of a Russian plane, which was accidentally hit by Syrian anti-aircraft fire during an Israeli missile strike.

“This unfortunate incident was the result of Israeli arrogance and depravity,” the Syrian leader said, offering his condolences in a letter to his Russian counterpart for the death of 15 Russian crew members killed in the incident over Syria on Monday.

“We are determined that such tragic events will sway neither you nor us from continuing the fight against terrorism,” he continued in the letter published by the official Sana agency.

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The Russian plane was downed by Syria’s Russian-made S-200 air defence system and all aboard were killed.

It was the worst ‘friendly fire’ incident between Moscow and the Syrian regime since Russian forces intervened in the country in late 2015 to support Assad whose grip on power had been weakened by rebels and jihadist fighters.

However Russian president Vladimir Putin has accepted Israel’s offer to share detailed information on the incident.

Mr Putin has sought to defuse tensions, pointing at “a chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Mr Putin on Tuesday to express sorrow over the death of the plane’s crew.

Israel’s air force chief is scheduled to arrive in Moscow on Thursday to provide details. Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday that Russian experts will carefully study the data that the air force chief will deliver.

The Israeli military said its fighter jets were targeting a Syrian military facility involved in providing weapons for Iran’s proxy Hezbollah militia and insisted it warned Russia of the coming raid in accordance with de-confliction agreements. It said the Syrian army fired the missiles that hit the Russian plane when the Israeli jets had already returned to Israeli airspace.

The Russian Defence Ministry said the Israeli warning came less than a minute before the strike, leaving the Russian aircraft in the line of fire. It accused the Israeli military of deliberately using the Russian plane as a cover to dodge Syrian defences and threatened to retaliate.

While Mr Putin took a cautious stance on the incident, he warned that Russia will respond by “taking additional steps to protect our servicemen and assets in Syria.”

Deputy prime minister Yuri Borisov said Wednesday that those will include deploying automated protection systems at Russia’s air and naval bases in Syria.

Business daily Kommersant reported that Russia also may respond to the downing of its plane by becoming more reluctant to engage Iran and its proxy Hezbollah militia, to help assuage Israeli worries.

Moscow has played a delicate diplomatic game of maintaining friendly ties with both Israel and Iran. In July, Moscow struck a deal with Tehran to keep its fighters 85km from the Golan Heights to accommodate Israeli security concerns.