President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that Syria likely shot down a Russian military plane near its coast.
“It sounds to me and it seems to me based on a review of the facts that Syria shot down a Russian plane. And I understand about 15 people were killed and that’s a very sad thing but that’s what happens,” Trump said at a joint press conference at the White House with Polish President Andrzej Duda, as quoted by Reuters.
“We have done a tremendous job in Syria and in that region eradicating ISIS, which is why we are there. And we are very close to finishing that job,” he added.
The Russian Defense Ministry earlier on Tuesday had blamed Israel for the downing of an Ilyushin IL-20 turboprop reconnaissance over Syria.
The Israeli military denied Russian claims Tuesday that Israel Air Force jets were responsible for the downing of the Russian military aircraft in Syrian airspace overnight.
Israeli jet planes hit targets in northern Syria late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, reportedly striking weapons research facilities operated by the Assad regime.
A defense ministry spokesman said Israel had warned the Russians a minute before the strike.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Israel was not responsible for the downing of the Russian military aircraft during the Monday night strike. “It looks like a chain of tragic circumstances, because the Israeli plane didn’t shoot down our jet,” he said.
HaAretz reported that when asked about comparisons to Turkey’s downing of a Russian aircraft in 2015, Putin said: “This is a different situation. The Turkish fighter jet knowingly downed our plane.”
The Russian president noted that the Defense Ministry’s statement, vowing a retaliatory response, was “fully coordinated” with him. “The retaliatory measures will be directed above all to boosting the security of military men and installations in Syria,” he said. “These will be measures everyone will see.”
Putin’s comments were a shift in tone after Russia had accused Israel earlier of a “hostile provocation” in striking the Syrian port city of Latakia, which led to the downing of the plane.
While Putin never directly attributed the downing of the aircraft to the Israel Air Force, ABC News reported that he backed a statement issued by Russia’s Defense Ministry blaming Israel.
Israeli army spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said in a statement that Israel “expresses sorrow for the death of the aircrew members of the Russian plane that was downed tonight due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” adding that Israel holds the Assad regime fully responsible for the incident, according to an Ha’Aretz report.
“Israel also holds Iran and the Hezbollah terror organization” for the event, said the statement. “Overnight, Israel Defense Forces fighter jets targeted a facility from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu subsequently spoke on the phone with Putin and expressed regret for the death of the crew members of the plane.
Netanyahu told Putin Syria was responsible for shooting down the Russian aircraft.
The Prime Minister noted the importance of continued security coordination between Israel and Russia, which has succeeded in preventing many losses on both sides.
Netanyahu stressed to the Russian President that Israel is ready to provide Russia with all the details of the investigation of the incident. Netanyahu proposed to send the commander of the Israeli Air Force to Moscow with all the relevant information.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also responded to the downing of the aircraft, expressing sorrow for the deaths of Russian aircrew members, according to an Ha’Aretz report. Pompeo said that the incident “reminds us of the need to find permanent, peaceful and political resolutions to the many overlapping conflicts in the region.” He added that the incident brings to light “the danger of tragic miscalculations in Syria’s crowded theater of operations.”