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Israeli Air Force Chief Travels To Moscow Amid Shoot-Down Anger

A Russian Il-20 electronic intelligence plane takes off from a Russian base in Syria (file photo).
A Russian Il-20 electronic intelligence plane takes off from a Russian base in Syria (file photo).

The chief of the Israeli Air Force chief is traveling to Moscow on September 20 for discussions after a Russian military surveillance plane was shot down over Syria’s coast, killing 15 Russian service-members.

Russia has acknowledged that antiaircraft forces of its ally Syria inadvertently brought down the Il-20 plane, but it also blamed Israel for conducting a fighter-jet raid on Syrian forces around the same time.

Israel on September 18 said Syrian antiaircraft batteries "fired indiscriminately" and failed to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air during the incident on September 17.

Russia, along with Iran, has given Syrian President Bashar al-Assad support throughout the country’s seven-year civil war, which began with a government crackdown on protesters in March 2011.

Russian air support has been particularly crucial in allowing Assad to hold off Islamic insurgents and Western-backed rebels and maintain power.

The Israeli Army said Major General Amikam Norkin and other top officers will travel to Moscow to "present the situation report of the event regarding all aspects, including the pre-mission information and the findings of the [Israel Defense Forces] inquiry."

It added that the delegation would "present the continuous Iranian attempts to transfer strategic weapons to [Hizballah]...and to establish an Iranian military presence in Syria."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered Russia "all necessary information" to investigate.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who spoke to Netanyahu by phone on September 18, called it "a chain of tragic chance events."

But he added that Russia needed to "seriously get to the bottom of what happened" and said he accepted Israel’s offer to provide information and that his government would study the details.

The Israeli military said its jets had targeted a Syrian site that was in the process of transferring weapons to Iran-backed Hizballah militants. It added that Israeli planes were already in Israeli airspace when Syria fired the missiles that hit the Russian plane.

Israel insisted it warned Russian forces of its raid ahead of time in accordance with previous agreements.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said the Israeli warning came less than a minute before the strike, and it accused the Israeli military of using the Russian plane as a cover to dodge Syrian defense systems.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials expressed sorrow over the shootdown of the Russian plane and added that American forces were not involved in the incident.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Iran, which has reportedly shipped sophisticated weaponry to the Hizballah fighters in Lebanon.

President Donald Trump also expressed concern about the downed Russian plane, calling it a "very sad thing" and saying it was "not a good situation."

With reporting by AFP and AP