UPDATE – Moscow: Israel responsible for downing of aircraft

ADDS STATEMENT BY ISRAELI AIR FORCE

By Ali Cura and Mustafa Deveci

MOSCOW / JERUSALEM (AA) – Russia’s Defense Ministry on Sunday blamed Israel for the downing of its military aircraft earlier this week, saying Israel providing "misleading information" had led to the crash.

A Russian Il-20 military aircraft with 15 servicemen on board disappeared over the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Syria early Tuesday.

In a press briefing, Russian Defense Ministry Spokesperson Igor Konashenkov laid out a timeline of the crash using radar data.

Konashenkov said that the four Israeli F-16 fighter jets had informed Russia only minutes before they were striking targets in Syria, stating that Israel provided "misleading information" as they said the fighter jets were located in northern Syria but in fact were striking facilities in the northwestern Latakia province.

Konashenkov emphasized that Israel did not inform Russia beforehand but rather issued a warning simultaneous to the beginning of its operation “which constitutes a breach of the existing agreements” and prevented the Il-20 aircraft from reaching a safe area.

“These actions constitute a clear violation of the 2015 Russian Israeli agreements to prevent clashes between our armed forces in and over Syria that were reached by the joint working group,” he said.

Konashenkov said that at 9.51 p.m. (1851GMT) local time, “the Syrian Air Defense forces began to repel the Israeli attack and launched surface-to-air missiles.”

Konashenkov said that after the strikes, the Israeli jets again began preparing for another strike, adding that at 9.59 p.m. (1859GMT) local time one of the Israeli jets started maneuvering and getting closer to the Il-20 military aircraft.

Konashenkov said that the Syrian air defense units considered the maneuver another attack by the Israeli Air Force while the Il-20 military aircraft was making its approach to land.

-Larger radar profile

“The Israeli pilot certainly knew that the Il-20 has a much larger radar cross-section than the F-16 and because of that, the Russian aircraft would be the preferred target for surface-to-air missiles,” he said.

Konashenkov said Syria air defense was trying to repel an Israeli F-16 warplane which was carrying out an airstrike in the Syrian province of Latakia.

"I would like to especially emphasize the fact that the Israeli jets saw the Russian Il-20 and used it as a shield against the surface-to-air missiles,” he added.

Konashenkov said that at 10.03 p.m. local time (1903GMT), a Syrian surface-to-air missile targeted the Russian Il-20, stating that the crew commander reported fire on the plane and that it was about to fall, which ended with the aircraft disappearing from the radar.

“The presented objective data indicates that the actions of the Israeli fighter pilots which led to the loss of life of 15 Russian servicemen is either a lack of professionalism or an act of criminal negligence, to say the least,” he said.

“Therefore we believe that the blame for the tragedy with the Russian Il-20 lies entirely with the Israeli Air Forces and those who made the decision to carry out such actions,” he added.

-Israel rejects accusations

Later Sunday Israel rejected Russia’s allegations, saying that it is in the interest of both Tel Aviv and Moscow to continue their coordination over Syria.

On Twitter, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) said an Israeli army delegation “presented the complete IDF [Israeli army] After Action Review (AAR) of the downing of the Russian plane by Syrian anti-air fire to senior Russian military officers.”

It added: “The comprehensive, accurate and factual details are known to the relevant professionals in the Russian military, and they clearly state that: the deconfliction mechanism operated in the relevant timeframe (as it has been operating over the last two-and-a-half years); the IAF did not hide behind any aircraft and that the Israeli aircraft were in Israeli airspace at the time of the downing of the Russian plane.”

“The coordination between the IDF and the Russian military has proven its value numerous times over the last years. The continuation of the coordination is a shared interest in light of the various regional challenges,” it said.

The statement added that the well-being of Russian troops operating in Syria “are a focal component in every approval of any activity by senior officials in the IDF and in Israel,” stating that the army will continue “to take all necessary measures” to achieve this.

“The IDF will continue to operate in accordance with the directives of the Israeli Government against Iran’s incessant attempts to establish itself in Syria and to arm the terrorist organization Hezbollah with lethal and accurate weapons,” it added.

The statement also expressed its condolences to the families of the Russian servicemen who lost their lives in the incident.

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