Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: EPA/MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: EPA/MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV

Moscow/Jerusalem — President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that the shooting down of a Russian military plane near Syria’s coast was the result of a chain of tragic and chance circumstances.

Russia’s defence ministry said earlier that the aircraft was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft systems, but accused Israel of indirectly causing the incident, saying Israeli jets operating nearby had put the plane in the path of danger. The ministry threatened to retaliate over what it called a hostile act.

Putin’s comments, made after talks with Hungary’s prime minister in Moscow, appeared to defuse the situation, though he said Russia needs to look further into what happened.

"It 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 said. Moscow’s response, he said, would aim at securing the safety of Russian military personnel in Syria’s complex civil war in which various outside powers have backed opposing sides.

Russia’s defence ministry said that the Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft, with 15 Russian service personnel on board, was brought down by anti-aircraft batteries of Moscow’s ally, Syria, in a "friendly fire" incident.

But the ministry said it held Israel responsible because, at the time of the incident, Israeli fighter jets were mounting air attacks on Syrian targets and had only given Moscow one minute’s warning, putting the Russian aircraft in danger of being caught in the cross-fire.

"We view the actions of the Israeli military as hostile," Russian defence ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov told Russian state television. "As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished."

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) expressed sorrow at the deaths but blamed the Syrian government and its allies Iran and Hezbollah.

"Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident," the IDF said in a statement.

It said the initial Israeli inquiry into the incident found that "extensive and inaccurate" Syrian surface-to-air anti-aircraft fire "caused the Russian plane to be hit and downed".

Reuters

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