Russia’s defence ministry said on Tuesday that one if its military aircraft with 14 people on board disappeared from radar screens over Syria at the same time that Israeli and French forces were mounting aerial attacks on targets in Syria.
A U.S. official said Washington believed the aircraft, which is an Il-20 turbo-prop plane used for electronic reconnaissance, was inadvertently shot down by anti-aircraft artillery operated by Moscow’s ally, the Syrian government.
Around the time the plane disappeared, the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, near a Russian airbase to which the Il-20 was returning, came under attack from “enemy missiles” and missile defence batteries responded, Syrian state media reported.
The defense ministry in Moscow said the aircraft was returning to the Russian-run Hmeymim airbase in Latakia province when, at about 11:00 p.m. Moscow time (20:00 GMT), it disappeared from radar screens.
The plane was over the Mediterranean Sea about 35 km (20 miles) from the Syrian coastline, Russia’s TASS news agency quoted the ministry as saying in a statement.
“The trace of the Il-20 on flight control radars disappeared during an attack by four Israeli F-16 jets on Syrian facilities in Latakia province,” the statement was quoted as saying.
“At the same time Russian air control radar systems detected rocket launches from the French frigate Auvergne which was located in that region.”
The fate of the 14 people on board the missing plane is unknown, and a rescue operation has been organized out of the Hmeymim base, the ministry said.
No Russian officials have thus far stated the plane was shot down.
A series of unusual airstrikes on Syria were attributed to Israel on Monday night. The official SANA news agency reported that ten people were injured in the attack, eight of whom were shortly discharged after being admitted to a nearby hospital.
According to Syrian media, missiles were fired toward military targets close to three large cities in the north of Syria: Lattakia, Homs and Hama.
In recent weeks there has been a significant uptick in the amount of reports attributing attacks to Israel. Previous attacks, according to foreign media, mostly targeted the area of the Damascus International Airport.