Putin absolves Israel, sees downing of Russian plane off Syria as accident

Putin and Erdogan agree to create demilitarised zone in Syria's Idlib

Putin and Erdogan agree to create demilitarised zone in Syria's Idlib

Russia's defense minister warned his Israeli counterpart Tuesday that Moscow could respond to the downing of a Russian plane over Syria, as he laid full blame on Israeli air force. The chief military investigation department of the Russian Investigative Committee has launched a criminal case into the crash of Russia's Il-20 plane above the Mediterranean Sea, committee spokesperson Svetlana Petrenko told reporters.

"We view the actions of the Israeli military as hostile", Russian Defence Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov told Russian state television.

Russian Federation said it was given less than a minute's warning by Israel ahead of the strikes, which was not enough time to get the military surveillance plane out of the way. The Russian plane was "not within the area of the operation" carried out by the Israeli jets, it said.

Hmeimim is Russia's main base for air strikes on rebel groups in Syria - strikes that have enabled President Assad's forces to recover much lost ground since 2015. Israeli military officials have previously praised its effectiveness.

Russia's dramatic entry into the Syrian civil war in September 2015 to support Syrian President Bashar Assad after a year of airstrikes by the USA and its allies against the Islamic State group increased the possibility of risky confrontations over Syria.

The Israeli military said earlier on Tuesday that it had no reaction, saying it does not comment on "foreign reports".

Sima Shine, a former senior Mossad official and ex-deputy director-general at Israel's Strategic Affairs Ministry, told Israel Army Radio that the incident could have "strategic implications" for Israel's freedom of action in Syria.

Israel confirmed that it had targeted a Syrian military facility where weapons manufacturing systems were "about to be transferred on behalf of Iran" to Lebanon's Hizbullah.

A U.S. official with knowledge of the incident said Monday that the Syrians were trying to stop a barrage of Israeli missiles when the Russian aircraft was hit.

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Israel has conducted frequent raids in recent months against Syria´s military infrastructure, including against bases it believes host Iranian combatants.

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.

The Syrian government, in a statement published by state media, said it welcomed any agreement that spared blood. "And I understand about 14 people were killed and that's a very sad thing but that's what happens", he said.

As the war in Syria rages on, Turkey and Russian Federation announced on Monday a joint agreement that will at least forestall an expected large-scale on Syria's Idlib province, now the last area controlled by rebel military factions facing off against the Syrian government.

Lowcock said that any screening to distinguish civilians from fighters should be undertaken in accordance with global law and with "humane treatment".

Under the pact, Turkish and Russian forces will patrol the de-militarized zone, but neither Putin nor Erdogan spelled out how they would convince rebel fighters to retreat from the area and surrender their heavy weaponry.

Russian Federation is also likely to provide enhanced assistance to the Syrian air defense system - either through additional equipment transfers or greater intelligence sharing and guidance - to make it more effective against Israeli attacks.

Putin said the decision was to establish by October 15 a demilitarized area 15 to 20 km (10-12 miles) deep along the contact line between rebel and government fighters.

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