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Netanyahu tells Putin Syria is to blame for downing of Russian plane, offers help with inquiry

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the commemoration of victims and award ceremony of the Righteous Among the Nations at the Paneriai Memorial in Vilnius, Lithuania August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that Syrian forces were to blame for the downing of a Russian military jet off Syria’s coast but he offered “all necessary information” to investigate the incident.

Putin said earlier that the shooting down was the result of a chain of tragic and chance circumstances and appeared to somewhat defuse the situation though he said Russia needed to look further into what happened.

“The prime minister expressed regret on behalf of the state of Israel for the death of the Russian soldiers and said responsibility for downing the plane was placed on Syria,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement following their phone conversation.

It said Netanyahu emphasised the importance of defence coordination with Russia that had managed “to prevent many losses on both sides in the past three years” in Syria’s civil war, where various outside powers have backed opposing forces.

Netanyahu and Putin hold frequent meetings and phone conversations and military officials communicate to ensure their respective aircraft avoid accidentally clashing in the region’s airspace.

Since intervening in Syria in 2015, Russia has usually turned a blind eye to Israeli attacks. Israeli officials say Israel has carried out about 200 such raids, often targeting Iran or Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia group, both close allies of the Syrian government, over the last two years.

Netanyahu “offered to send the Israeli Air Force commander to Moscow to deliver all the necessary details” for the investigation, the statement said.

He added that Israel was “determined to halt Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria and the attempts ... to transfer to (Iranian-backed) Hezbollah, lethal weaponry (to be used) against Israel.”

Netanyahu’s statement was issued as sirens sounded throughout Israel to mark the beginning of the Yom Kippur religious fast day, when much of the country falls silent, with radio and television broadcasts going off the air and all transportation stopping for 24 hours.

Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich