Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to defuse a crisis on Tuesday after Syrian defences mistakenly downed a Russian warplane after Israeli air strikes.
The incident late Monday was the deadliest known case of friendly fire between Syria and its key backer Russia since Moscow’s game-changing 2015 military intervention.
Putin said it was the result of “tragic accidental circumstances”.
The Ilyushin plane dropped off the radar over the Mediterranean after Turkey and Russia announced a deal that offered millions of people reprieve from a threatened military assault in northern Syria’s Idlib province.
The deadly chain of events started when Israeli missiles struck the coastal region of Latakia.
Israel said it had targeted a Syrian military facility where weapons manufacturing systems were “about to be transferred on behalf of Iran” to Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah.
It sees Iran’s military presence in Syria as a threat, and Netanyahu told Putin by phone on Tuesday his forces would keep acting against it.
“Israel is determined to stop Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, and the attempts by Iran, which calls for the destruction of Israel, to transfer to Hezbollah lethal weaponry (to be used) against Israel,” said Netanyahu.
Israel expressed ‘sorrow’ for the Russian deaths, but insisted the Russian plane had been felled by “extensive and inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft (surface-to-air missile) fire”.
Putin said Russia would beef up security for its forces in Syria, in what he called “steps that everyone will notice”.
Earlier Russian President Vladimir Putin called up Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reprimanding their military’s intrusion on Syrian sovereignty, Press TV reported on Tuesday.
He said that Israel has violated Syria’s sovereignty and has also negated Russian-Israeli agreements on the prevention of dangerous incidents.
Putin said that Russian Ilyushin II-20 aircraft came under fire of Syria’s anti-aircraft guns because of Israeli military’s aerial operations in Syria. He said that the belligerents used it as a ‘cover up’.
“The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Russian president called for the Israeli side to ‘avoid’ such situations from now on,” the Kremlin press service quoted.
The Israeli Premier responded by offering condolences for the 15 servicemen who lost their lives on duty and said quid pro quo information would be provided to assist the investigation.
Kremlin sources stated the Israeli Air Force Commander would deliver details of the military operations to Moscow.
“We view the actions of the Israeli military as hostile. As a result of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military, 15 Russian service personnel perished,” Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov told Russia’s state-run television network.
Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Bashaar al Jaafri also rebuked the latest Israeli aggression, stating that Tel Aviv has adopted aggressive polices which incline terror groups to be more active and they continue to tackle heavier blows in the battlefield.
“Syria calls on UN Security Council to take firm and immediate measures to hold Israel accountable for its terrorism and crimes in violation of the Charter of the United Nations,” Jaffari said at session of the security council.
“We are surprised that UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock did not address the repeated Israeli attacks on Syria,” he said.
Jaafari argued that an intra-Syrian dialogue was being encouraged and the military intrusion sabotaged that process.
“Syria welcomes any initiative that spares the lives of Syrians and contributes to the restoration of security to any area plagued by terrorism. Syria will continue its war against terrorism until the last inch of its territory is liberated either through military operations or reconciliations.”
The Arab-state has been rife with militancy since March 2011. The government believes that Israel and Western allies are backing terror groups in the country.