Russia's Il-20 aircraft disappears near Syrian coast

Russia's Il-20 aircraft disappears near Syrian coast

Russia’s Il-20 military aircraft with 14 servicemen on board vanished from radar over the Mediterranean Sea late Monday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

The official added that the plane went off the radar while F-16 fighters of the Israeli Air Force attacked targets in the Syrian province of Latakia, the fate of the Russian military is unknown.

"On September 17, at about 11:00 pm Moscow time, the connection with the crew of the Russian Il-20 aircraft was lost over the Mediterranean Sea when the plane was returning to the airbase of Khmeimim, 35 kilometers from the coast of Syria," the official said.

The command of Russia’s air base at Khmeymim launched a search and rescue operation.

The ministry specified that "the mark of Il-20 went off the radars disappeared during the attack of four Israeli F-16 aircraft on Syrian targets in the province of Latakia."

An Israeli military spokeswoman when asked about both the reported Israeli strike and the Russian plane said: "We don't comment on foreign reports."

RIA Novosti news agency, citing a security source, said that Syrian anti-defence systems had countered a rocket attack.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government.

The Russian defence ministry also said that rockets had been launched from the French Navy's frigate, The Auvergne, which was in the area at the time.

"The French army denies any involvement in this attack," a French army spokesman said, according to France Soir.

This morning Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said that Russia’s military plane Il-20 was shot down by the Syrian air defense over the Mediterranean Sea, because Israel’s F-16 fighters used it as a cover. 

According to the spokesman, the Israeli jets deliberately created a dangerous situation in Latakia. Konashenkov stated that Israel's aviation control systems could not but notice the Russian aircraft as it was landing.

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

"We see these provocative actions of Israel as hostile. 15 Russian servicemen were killed as a result of the irresponsible actions of Israel's Defense Forces. It violated the spirit of the Israeli-Russian partnership," the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman stressed.

"We reserve the right to an adequate response," Konashenkov warned.

CNN earlier reported, citing a US official with knowledge of the incident, that the Il-20 aircraft was inadvertently shot down by Syrian regime anti-aircraft artillery after the Syrians came under attack by Israeli missiles. The US official said the regime was actually trying to stop a barrage of Israeli missiles. A second official confirmed that Israel was responsible for the missile strikes on the Syrian regime.

A Pentagon spokesman, in turn, said the United States was not involved and declined to provide further details. "The missiles were not fired by the US military and we have nothing further at this time," he said.