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Russia Blames Israel After Losing Military Jet to Syrian Missile

Nataliya Vasilyeva / AP

(MOSCOW) — A Russian reconnaissance aircraft was brought down by a Syrian missile over the Mediterranean early Tuesday, killing all 15 people on board, the Russian defense ministry said. It blamed Israel for the crash, saying the plane was caught in the crossfire as four Israeli fighters attacked targets in northwestern Syria.

The Russian military said the Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft was hit 35 kilometers (22 miles) off the coast as it was returning to its home base nearby.

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

Russia said it would make an “appropriate response” to Israel.

The military said Israel did not warn it of its operation over Latakia province until one minute before the strike, which did not give the Russian plane enough time to escape.

A recovery operation in the Mediterranean Sea is underway, Konashenkov said.

For several years, Israel and Russia have maintained a special hotline to prevent their air forces from clashing in the skies over Syria. Israeli military officials have previously praised its effectiveness.

Russia has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and it has two military bases in the country, including one close to the Mediterranean coast.

The Israeli military said earlier on Tuesday that it had no reaction, saying it does not comment on “foreign reports.”

The Russian military said on Tuesday that the plane was hit by accident by one of the missiles, which were aimed at four Israeli fighter jets that were attacking targets in the coastal province of Latakia late on Monday.

Russia said the Israeli aircraft “pushed” the Russian plane into the line of fire. The ministry accused the Israeli army of “intentional provocation” and said Israel did not warn Russia of its operation in the area until one minute before the strike.

Russia has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and it has two military bases in the country, including one close to the Mediterranean coast.