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article imageIsrael air force chief in Moscow for plane downing meeting

By AFP     Sep 20, 2018 in World

Israel's air force commander held a "transparent discussion" with Russian officials in Moscow on Thursday, the Israeli army said, after a Russian warplane was downed by Syria earlier in the week following Israeli air strikes.

Major General Amikam Norkin led a delegation to the Russian capital to share the military's findings on the incident, which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has blamed on Israel.

"The meetings were held in good spirits and the representatives shared a professional, open and transparent discussion on various issues," the Israeli army said in a statement after the visit by Norkin.

"Both sides emphasised the importance of the states' interests and the continued implementation of the deconfliction system," the army said, referring to information exchanged between Israel and Russia to reduce the risk of air incidents.

Syrian air defences shot down the Russian Il-20 military plane on Monday, killing all 15 soldiers aboard after Israeli missiles struck the coastal region of Latakia.

The incident was the worst case of friendly fire between Moscow and Assad's regime since Russian forces intervened in the war-torn country in late 2015.

Afterwards, the Russian military accused Israeli pilots of using "the Russian plane as a cover, exposing it to fire from Syrian air defences".

Israel denied the allegations, saying its jets were already back in its airspace when Syrian forces launched the missiles that hit the Russian plane.

In a letter to his Russian counterpart on Wednesday, Assad offered his condolences for the deaths after the plane was downed by Syria's Russian-made S-200 air defence system.

"This unfortunate incident was the result of Israeli arrogance and depravity," the Syrian leader said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that he had sent Norkin to Moscow to "preserve cooperation between our two countries".

Netanyahu expressed his "sorrow" to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Tuesday but insisted the Russian plane was shot down by "extensive and inaccurate Syrian anti-aircraft (fire)".

Putin has said the incident was the result of "tragic accidental circumstances," but also warned Netanyahu against carrying out such operations in the future.

According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, Putin held talks with his Security Council on Thursday.

"The strengthening of the security of the Russian military in Syria after the disaster of Il-20 was on the agenda," Peskov said, quoted by news agency Ria Novosti.

Israel has vowed to stop its arch-foe Iran, which backs the Assad regime, from entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria.

Earlier this month, Israel acknowledged having carried out more than 200 strikes in Syria over the past 18 months, mainly against Iranian targets.

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