Passenger Plane Was Nearly Shot Down in Syria, Russia Says

Passenger Plane Was Nearly Shot Down in Syria, Russia Says

BEIRUT, Lebanon — A passenger plane with 172 people aboard made an emergency landing at a Russian military base in Syria on Thursday after drawing fire from Syrian air defenses in the aftermath of Israeli airstrikes in the area, Russian state news agencies reported on Friday.

A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Igor Konashenkov, blamed Israel for the near miss, accusing the Israeli military of habitually using civilian aircraft to stop Syrian air defenses from retaliating against its strikes, Interfax reported.

“The Israeli general staff carries out such operations using civilian, passenger airplanes as cover or to block answering fire from the Syrian antiaircraft forces,” Mr. Konashenkov said in a statement released to Russian news outlets. The tactic, he said, “is a characteristic of the Israeli air force.”

The passenger plane, an Airbus A320, was en route to Damascus from Tehran early Thursday when it came under fire, Interfax reported Mr. Konashenkov as saying. Mr. Konashenkov said the attack was meant for Israeli fighter jets that had struck the outskirts of Damascus with eight surface-to-air missiles around the same time, just after 2 a.m.

The Israeli jets fired from a standoff distance, without entering Syrian airspace, he said.

Israel has repeatedly bombed Syria in recent years, striking Iranian targets in a bid to rout Iranian forces from Syria, where Tehran is entrenched as a military ally and political patron to President Bashar al-Assad’s military.

Both Russia and Iran have backed the Syrian government with financing, militia troops and airstrikes during the Syrian civil war, now in its ninth year. But neither country has retaliated against Israel, despite its open acknowledgment its airstrikes inside Syria.

The plane was caught in antiaircraft missile and artillery fire as it descended toward Damascus International Airport, according to Mr. Konashenkov, but managed to land at Hmeimim Air Base, a Russian controlled site in northwest Syria.

“Only thanks to the quick action of the dispatchers in Damascus and the effective work of automated systems for controlling air traffic was it possible to direct the Airbus out of the strike zone,” he said.

The Interfax report did not say whether anyone was injured, and Syrian state media did not carry reports on the events on Friday.

The emergency landing came just a month after Iranian forces unintentionally shot down a Ukraine International Airlines passenger plane soon after it took off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. Iran first blamed technical issues with the plane before acknowledging that its own forces had accidentally brought down the plane, a consequence of the heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran that had played out since an American drone strike killed Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.

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