Russia says Israel nearly shot down passenger plane in Syria

AP , Friday 7 Feb 2020

The plane had to make an emergency landing at the Hmeimeem Air Base some 300 kilometers north of Damascus

Israeli military base
File photo: An Israeli soldier walks next to a mobile artillery unit near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. (Reuters)

Russia's Defense Ministry said Friday that Israeli air forces nearly shot down a passenger jetliner in Syria during a missile strike on the suburbs of Damascus a day earlier.

The allegation comes as tensions run high in Syria, where fighting has escalated in the northern province of Idlib. Syrian government forces, backed by the Russian military, have clashed with Turkish troops that support the opposition there after failing to observe a cease-fire.

A spokesman for the Israeli prime minister did not respond to a request for comment. Israel rarely acknowledges strikes carried out in Syria.

In a statement released Friday, Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said the strike was carried around 2 a.m. local time Thursday. He said four Israeli F-16 fighter jets hit the suburbs of Damascus with eight missiles without taking into account that a passenger plane with 172 civilians on board was preparing to land in the city's airport around the same time.

Konashenkov didn't name the airline or flight number, saying only that it was an Airbus-320 en route from Tehran that "came near to entering the zone of a deadly anti-aircraft missile and artillery fire.''

The plane had to make an emergency landing at the Hmeimeem Air Base some 300 kilometers (186 miles) north of Damascus, which is operated by the Russian military.

The Associated Press wasn't able to independently verify the Russian claims.

FlightRadar24, a website that provides tracking of air traffic, showed Syrian airline Cham Wings Flight 514 _ an Airbus320-211 _ taking off from Najaf at 1:07 a.m. local time Thursday morning. It can be seen approaching Damascus about an hour later before turning back and diverting its course to the north. It appears to have landed in or near Hmeimeem a half hour later. Flightradar24 listed the arrival time and destination as unknown.

The airline offered no immediate comment.

In the statement, the Russian military accused Israel of endangering the "lives of hundreds of innocent civilians.''

"Scheduled airline traffic in the Syrian air space, as well as everywhere in the world, takes place on well-known altitude flight levels and is clearly detected by Israel's radar equipment,'' Konashenkov said.

This is not the first time Russia has blamed Israel for "irresponsible actions'' in Syria. In September 2018, the Defense Ministry said Israeli forces failed to give Moscow enough warning about a strike and put a Russian military Il-20 plane in the line of fire of Syrian anti-missile systems. The plane was shot down and 15 people on board were killed.

Short link: