U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says the shootdown of a Russian military aircraft by Syrian forces complicates relations between President Bashar Assad and the Russian government but has “no effect whatever” on the U.S. campaign to defeat Islamic State fighters in Syria.
Mattis commented during a brief encounter Tuesday with reporters at the Pentagon.
He says the incident is also a reminder of why the U.S. supports the United Nations effort to establish a political process for ending the civil war.
Asked about the Turkey-Russia deal declaring a demilitarized zone around the rebel stronghold Idlib, Mattis suggests that more needs to be done to avert a humanitarian disaster. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the demilitarized zone is to be established by Oct. 15.
President Donald Trump is expressing concern about a Russian plane that was shot down over Syria.
Trump, appearing at a White House news conference with the president of Poland on Tuesday, called it a “very sad thing” and said it was “not a good situation.”
But the president also said that the United States has done a “tremendous job” battling the Islamic State group in Syria. He went on to suggest that the nation’s mission there was “very close to being finished.”
The Russian plane was believed to be shot down by the Syrian regime’s anti-aircraft fire.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned Israel against conducting air raids on Syria like the one that led to the downing of a Russian warplane by Syrian air defense missile, killing all 15 aboard.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Putin to express sorrow over the plane’s loss, but insisted that Syria bears responsibility for the downing of the Il-20 electronic intelligence plane.
The Kremlin said that Putin emphasized that the Israeli attack violated Syria’s sovereignty and also breached the Russian-Israeli agreements on avoiding clashes in Syria. The Russian leader urged Netanyahu “not to allow such situations in the future.”
Staffan de Mistura told the U.N. Security Council at the start of a meeting on Syria that new military action “would only exacerbate an already complex situation.”
He expressed concern at “worrying military activities” just as a potential major military offensive in the last major rebel stronghold in Idlib was averted following an agreement Monday between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
De Mistura noted the differing statements by Russia, Syria and Israel about the downing of a Russian reconnaissance aircraft by Syria government anti-aircraft fire which killed all 15 people on board.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed sorrow over the downing of a Russian warplane in which the entire 15-member crew was killed after being hit with a Syrian missile as Syrian air defenses fired on Israeli jets.
Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin during a phone call that Syria bears responsibility for the downing of the Il-20 electronic intelligence plane. He offered to dispatch the Israeli air force chief to Moscow to share details.
He noted the importance of the continuation of security coordination between Israel and Russia, saying it helped prevent many losses on both sides. Netanyahu also noted that Israel is determined to block Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria and transferring weapons to its proxy Hezbollah militia for use against Israel.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon says that there will be no comment on what was discussed between Deputy Ambassador Keren Cohen-Gat and Russian officials.
Israel says Syria is responsible for shooting down the aircraft. It said Israeli jets had targeted a Syrian weapons facility and were already back within Israeli airspace when the incident happened. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to speak about the incident later Tuesday.
A war monitoring group says Israeli raids against a Syrian weapons facility on Syria’s coast killed two soldiers whose bodies were found after the fire sparked by the explosions died down.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Tuesday the identities of the soldiers were not known. The Syrian government acknowledge the raid that targeted the compound of the state-owned Institute for Technical Industries.
Syria said its air defenses were activated and intercepted the Israeli jets off its coast. It turns out they instead hit a Russian reconnaissance aircraft that was returning to a Russian base on Syria’s coast. All 15 Russians onboard the aircraft were killed.
The Observatory said the Syrian air defenses that hit the Russian aircraft came from a brigade based in Baniyas, a town over 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Latakia. Russia has military and naval bases in Syria’s coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says “a chain of tragic circumstances” is to be blamed for a Russian military aircraft shot down by a Syrian missile. He vowed to boost security for Russian troops there.
The Russian reconnaissance aircraft was shot down by Syrian missile defense over the Mediterranean Sea late on Monday. The missiles were reportedly targeting Israeli jets nearby. All 15 people onboard are reported dead.
Putin on Tuesday that the Kremlin will look into circumstances surrounding the crash. Putin made his remarks several hours after the Defense Ministry put the blame squarely on Israel for “provoking” the incident. Putin did not voice his grievances against Israel, but said he supported the Defense Ministry’s statement.
He said Russia will now focus on boosting security for its troops stationed there, saying that these will be “the steps that everyone will notice.
The Israeli military has expressed sorrow for the deaths of Russian aircrew downed by Syrian anti-aircraft fire and is blaming also the militant Hezbollah group and Iran for the incident.
The military issued a statement on Tuesday saying that Syria’s government is “fully responsible” for the shooting down of the Russian military aircraft over Syria and that Iran and Hezbollah are also “accountable for this unfortunate incident.”
It said Israeli jets had targeted a Syrian weapons facility and were already back within Israeli airspace when the incident happened.
The Russian plane was hit by “extensive and inaccurate” Syrian fire and “did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air.” The military said Israel will share all its information with Russia to “review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”
Earlier, Russian state television said Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in a phone call to his Israeli counterpart said Israel was responsible. The Russian ministry said the plane was caught in the crossfire as four Israeli fighters attacked targets in northwestern Syria.
Speaking in Romania on Tuesday, Heiko Maas said “whatever helps avoid a humanitarian disaster in Idlib is good.”
Maas cautioned that some agreements in Syria hadn’t been implemented in recent years, however. He called for humanitarian access to be ensured, adding that “we must use this chance to drive forward the political process.”
The Kremlin says that the shooting down of a Russian military aircraft close to Syria with the loss of 15 lives will not affect the new agreement between Russia and Turkey on a demilitarized zone in Syria.
He said the shooting down of the plane, which Russia says was caught in the crossfire between Israeli jets and Syrian missile defense late on Monday, will have no impact on that deal.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: “Diplomacy works.” He added that his visits to Turkey and Russia in recent weeks pursued the deal to avert war in Idlib “with a firm commitment to fight extremist terror.”
Iran and Russia are the main backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Turkey backs the opposition. The three countries have been mediating over finding a solution for Syria’s seven-year conflict.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, also welcomed the agreement, adding that “it is an important and essential step for removing the remaining terrorists in Syria.
The ministry said in a statement released Tuesday that the Russia-Turkey agreement was the result of “intensive consultations” between Moscow and Damascus.
It said Syria welcomes any initiative that can stop the Syrian bloodshed and contribute to the restoration of security in areas “hit by terror.”
It vowed to continue “war against terrorism until liberating the last inch of the Syrian territory, whether through military operations or through local reconciliations.”
It said that the Idlib agreement is a “time-bound” deal and is part of the previous agreements that were reached to reduce escalation in the areas.
The Russian reconnaissance aircraft was shot down by the Syrian missile defense over the Mediterranean Sea late on Monday. The missiles were reportedly targeting Israeli jets nearby. All 15 people on board are reported dead. The Russian military blamed Israel for the crash, saying that it “provoked” the strike.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters on Tuesday that the Kremlin is analyzing reports. It stopped short of blaming Israel for the incident, which the military and the defense minister have done.
The Russian military said on Tuesday that the reconnaissance aircraft was brought down by a Syrian missile over the Mediterranean late on Monday, killing all 15 people on board. It said the plane was caught in the crossfire as four Israeli fighters attacked targets in northwestern Syria.
Russian TV quoted a Defense Ministry statement as saying that Shoigu told Avigdor Lieberman that Israel is “fully to blame” for the deaths of the 15 people onboard.
A pro-government Syrian newspaper says the agreement reached between Russia and Turkey over the northwestern rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib envisions three stages in returning Damascus government institutions to the area.
The daily Al-Watan reported on Tuesday that the agreement struck in Sochi the day before also calls for the establishing of a demilitarized zone along all the front line in Idlib by Oct. 15. The rebels are to hand over their heavy weapons under the supervision of Russia and Turkey by Nov. 10.
The paper says the third phase will see government institutions return to the rebel-held region after militants withdraw from residential areas.
Russia’s Defense Ministry says one of its reconnaissance aircraft with 15 people on board has been brought down by a Syrian surface-to-air missile over the Mediterranean Sea. Rescuers are searching for wreckage but do not expect survivors.
The Russian military said on Tuesday that the plane was hit by accident by one of the missiles, which were aimed at four Israeli fighter jets that were attacking targets in the coastal province of Latakia late on Monday.
Russia said the Israeli aircraft “pushed” the Russian plane into the line of fire. The ministry accused the Israeli army of “intentional provocation” and said Israel did not warn Russia of its operation in the area until one minute before the strike.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement Tuesday that the Il-20 jet went off radar 35 kilometers (22 miles) away from the coast late Monday as it was returning to the Russian base near the city of Lattakia. The military said the plane disappeared as four Israeli fighter jets were attacking targets in the area.
Officials did not immediately say if the plane was shot down.
Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.