U.S. Closely Monitoring Russia, Turkey Buffer Zone in Syria’s Idlib Province

Minnie Murray
September 19, 2018

During Israeli airstrikes on the Syrian coast on September 17, a Russian IL-20 surveillance plane with 15 crew members on board was accidentally shot down by a Syrian surface-to-air missile battery that was responding to the attack.

The Russian military accused Israeli pilots of using "the Russian plane as a cover, exposing it to fire from Syrian air defenses", a charge Israel denied.

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

Turkey will send more troops into Syria's Idlib province after striking a deal with Russian Federation that has averted a government offensive and delighted rebels who say it keeps the area out of President Bashar al-Assad's hands.

"Israel did not warn the command of the Russian troops in Syria about the planned operation", Konashenkov said.

"As a result of the irresponsible actions by the Israeli military, 15 Russian servicemen have died".

Russian Federation 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 its fighter jets were targeting a Syrian military facility involved in providing weapons for Iran's proxy Hezbollah militia, noting that it warned Russian Federation of the coming raid in line with de-confliction agreements.

The aircraft was shot down by an anti-aircraft system the Russians sold to the Syrians several years ago, the United States official said.

The Israeli military said the Russian plane fell victim to the "extensive and inaccurate" firing of Syrian surface-to-air missile systems and that the Israeli jets - which were carrying out a raid against a Syrian government facility in another place - had already left Syrian airspace by that point.

The statement also laid blame on Iran and Hezbollah.

Putin said Moscow's response would aim to secure the safety of Russian military personnel in Syria's complicated civil war, in which various outside powers have backed opposing sides.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Putin by phone on Tuesday and blamed Syria for the aircraft's downing but offered "all necessary information" for the investigation into the incident, Netanyahu's office said.

Netanyahu, who has maintained warm personal ties with Putin and frequently traveled to Russian Federation for Syria-focused talks, noted the need for Russian Federation and Israel to continue coordinating their action in Syria. Gen. Ronen Manelis admitted the military had carried out strikes against Syrian targets. The zone, which will be patrolled by Turkish and Russian military units, will become operational from October 15. "And I understand about 14 people were killed and that's a very sad thing but that's what happens", he said.

Russian Federation began military strikes in Syria in 2015 after a request from President Assad, who has stayed in power despite seven years of civil war which has so far killed more than 350,000 people.

The deal unveiled on Monday by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Assad's most powerful ally, and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will create a demilitarized zone from which "radical" rebels must withdraw by the middle of next month.

Russian Federation says its air strikes only target "terrorists", but activists have said they mainly hit mainstream rebel fighters and civilians.

In Damascus, Syria's foreign ministry welcomed the agreement, while vowing that it will continue the fight against "terrorism until liberating the last inch of the Syrian territory, whether through military operations or through local reconciliations".

"By Oct. 10, at the suggestion of the Turkish president, (we agreed) on the withdrawal from that zone of the heavy weapons, tanks, rockets systems and mortars of all opposition groups", Putin said, with Erdogan standing alongside him.

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