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Russia accuses Israel over downed jet, boosts Syrian defence

By Sheetal Sukhija, Kolkata News
25 Sep 2018, 06:03 GMT+10

MOSCOW, Russia - In the aftermath of the downing of a Russian jet in Syria last week, the Kremlin has now unveiled its plans for its future operations in Syria.

In the incident last week, Russia’s Ilyushin Il-20 reconnaissance plane was reported to have "disappeared during an attack by four Israeli F-16 jets on Syrian facilities in Latakia province."

Russia's Tass news agency said that the military plane was downed about 35km (22 miles) from the Syrian coast while it was returning to Russia's Hmeimim airbase near Latakia.

In its initial response, Russia accused Israel for downing the jet, which killed all the 15 Russian aircrew members onboard. 

The Russian Defence Ministry said that the aircraft was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft systems and accused Israel of indirectly causing the incident.

Blaming Israeli jets that were nearby for putting the Russian plane in the path of danger, the Ministry called it a hostile act and threatened to retaliate to Israel's “irresponsible actions."

However, the same evening, after a telephonic conversation with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Russian President Vladimir Putin attempted to defuse tensions.

Putin struck a more conciliatory tone and said that Russia would need to look into the exact details of the case.

He told reporters, “I looks most likely in this case that it was a chain of tragic chance events, because an Israeli aircraft did not shoot down our aircraft. But, without any doubt we need to seriously get to the bottom of what happened."

Putin stressed that the Russian response would be to secure the safety of Russian military personnel in Syria.

Since Russia entered the Syrian civil war in 2015, last week's incident became the deadliest known case of friendly fire between Syria and its closest ally.

However, on Sunday, the Russian military blamed the downing of the jet on "misleading" information from the Israeli air force. 

In a statement, Russian military spokesman Igor Konashenkov said that Israeli command warned on the day of the incident that it would strike the "north of Syria."

He added that Russia had ordered its plane to return to its base, but "one minute" after the call, Israeli F-16s struck targets in western Syria.

Konashenkov added, "The misleading [information] by the Israeli officer regarding the location of the strikes made it impossible to guide the Il-20 to a safe location."

Subsequently, on Monday, Russia announced its plans for the future course of action in Syria.

Kremlin announced that it will supply the Syrian government with more modern, S-300 missile defense systems following last week's downing of a Russian plane by Syria. 

According to Russian officials, Syria's outdated S-200 systems weren't sophisticated enough to identify the Russian plane as a friendly one in the incident.

In a statement, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Monday that Russia will send the S-300 missile defense systems to Syria within the next two weeks. 

Pointing out that Russia had previously suspended a supply of S-300s since Israel feared Syria could use against it - Shoigu said that now, Moscow would go ahead with the shipment because "the situation has changed, and it's not our fault." 

Further, in response to last week's incident, Shoigu revealed that Russia would start to electronically jam aircraft flying in to attack targets in Syria.

He said, "We are convinced that these measures will calm down some hotheads and keep them from careless actions which pose a threat to our troops."

In a separate statement, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying that supplying S-300 to Syria is Russia's "own right."

He pointed out that he was confident that this would not hurt ties with Israel.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said in an official statement that Russia's decision was not targeted against anyone.

Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that the country's decision was made to serve to protect Russian troops in Syria. 

He added that recent findings by the Russian military showed an Israeli jet "deliberately" pushed the Russian Il-20 into the line of fire, enabling its downing.

Meanwhile, despite the accusations, Israel has maintained that it would continue to take action against Iran in Syria

The Israeli military has said that shortly before the downing of the Russian jet, Israeli strikes had hit targets inside Syria, which managed to prevent an arms shipment going to the Iranian-backed militant Hezbollah group.

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