It was one of Russia’s Il-20 turbo-prop planes used for electronic reconnaissance, shot down some 25 kilometres from the Syrian coastline.
The plane’s disappearance comes in the wake of President Vladimir Putin declaring that Turkey and Russia have agreed to establish a demilitarised zone in Idlib by mid-October.
Notably, Putin added that heavy weapons would be withdrawn from all opposition forces by October 10 – a move welcomed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Al Jazeera reported.
This is effectively a ceasefire, with both countries conducting joint patrols towards the de-escalation in Idlib. The announcement was made on Monday during a press conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, where Putin hosted his Turkish counterpart, President Erdogan.
Russia’s Defence Minister Shoigu also announced that there will be no military operation in Idlib. Shoigu held the memorandum on the Idlib settlement signed by him and his Turkish counterpart, Hulusi Akar in his hands for the media.
The downed Russian plane was said to be returning to its home base at the Hmeymim airfield in Latakia province, an area that was under attack by four Israeli F-16 jets at the time.
The Russian ministry of defence initially implicated France and Israel. Russian news agency TASS noted: “The trace of the Il-20 on flight control radars disappeared during an attack by four Israeli F-16 jets on Syrian facilities in Latakia province. At the same time Russian air control radar systems detected rocket launches from the French frigate Auvergne which was located in that region”.
But a French army spokesman denied “any involvement in this attack”. An Israeli military spokeswoman stated: “We don’t comment on foreign reports.”
The Russian plane may have been “inadvertently shot down” by the government trying to stop an Israeli missile attack, CNN reported.
The military aircraft was actually shot down by the Syrian air defense over the Mediterranean Sea because Israel’s F-16 fighters used it as a cover, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov explained to the media on Tuesday morning.
“By using the Russian plane as a cover the Israeli air pilots made it vulnerable to Syrian air defense fire. As a result, the Ilyushin-20, its reflective surface being far greater than that of F-16, was downed by a missile launched with the S-200 system,” Konashenkov said.
Moreover, Israel had issued no suitable warning to the Russian command of their forthcoming operation.
The Israeli planes deliberately created a dangerous situation for ships and aircraft in the area, Konashenkov added. Israeli command centers and F-16s’ pilots could clearly “see the Russian plane, which was approaching the runway from an altitude of five kilometers”, he said.
“Nevertheless they deliberately staged this provocation.”
Syrian forces had sent out an urgent search and rescue call over an international frequency leading to an unidentified country alerting the US about the type of aircraft and that the plane had been shot down.
The Russian ministry said Israel knew that that they were setting up the Russian plane. “We received a notification via a hotline less than a minute before the strike, which did not allow the Russian aircraft to be directed to a safe zone,” according to Konashenkov.
The Russian side warned that they now reserved the right of response.
“We consider these provocative actions by Israel as hostile. Fifteen Russian military service members have died because of the irresponsible actions of the Israeli military. This is absolutely contrary to the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership,” the statement read. “We reserve the right for an adequate response.”