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

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem September 16, 2018 Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via Reuters

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 emphasized the importance of defense 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