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Russia says Israel used civilian plane as a shield during alleged Syria strikes

Surprise Israeli strikes on Damascus suburbs put a civilian aircraft in serious danger and forced it to divert to Russia’s Khmeimim airbase as the Syrian air defense was activated to repel the attack, the Russian military said.

An Airbus A320 flying from Tehran to the Syrian capital was forced to make an emergency landing following an Israeli missile attack, the Russian Defense Ministry said. It added that using civilian aircraft as a “shield” is “commonplace” for Israeli Air Force pilots.

The aircraft was about to land at Damascus International Airport, but was unable do so as the Syrian air defense systems engaged the hostile targets. The jet could have found itself in the crossfire if it weren’t for the Damascus air traffic control, whose “timely actions” averted a possible disaster.

The A320 was landed “at the closest alternative airfield,” the ministry stated. It also said the surprise attack took place around 2am local time, with four Israeli F-16s firing at least eight air-to-surface missiles from outside of Syrian airspace.

Tel Aviv is perfectly aware of civilian flight routes and air activity around Damascus, day and night, and such reckless missions prove that Israeli strategists could not care less about possible civilian casualties, Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov said.

This is not the first time Israeli fighter jets have endangered civilian aircraft. Moscow criticized Tel Aviv for putting two passenger flights landing at Beirut and Damascus airports in danger during an air raid in 2018. Israel has flown hundreds of similar bombing raids on Syria throughout the country’s civil war, claiming to be hitting “legitimate Iranian targets.”

In another incident in 2018, Syria’s air defenses shot down a Russian IL-20 military craft after Israeli F-16 pilots used it as cover. The deadly shootdown, which killed the plane’s 15-man crew, prompted Moscow to furnish the country with its S-300 missile defense system.

Twenty-three Iranian and foreign fighters were killed in strikes against several targets near Damascus in the predawn hours of Thursday morning, which Syrian state media blamed on Israel, according to a Britain-based monitoring group.

Syrian state news agency SANA on Thursday claimed the country’s air defenses downed a number of missiles during the strikes. Defense analysts routinely dismiss such claims by the Syrian regime as empty boasts.

“Our air defenses confronted an Israeli attack” west of the capital, said state news agency SANA, adding that the attack was carried out from airspace in the Israeli Golan Heights.

In total, at least three government and Iranian positions near Damascus and west of the capital were targeted, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which said a fire broke out in one of the areas.

IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said he was aware of the “foreign reports” about airstrikes in Syria but declined to comment on the matter in accordance with longstanding Israeli policy.

Header: Russian warplane deployed in Syria’s Khmeimim Airbase.