Moscow summons Israeli diplomat over airstrike in Syria
Russia's Foreign Ministry has confirmed it summoned the Israeli ambassador to Moscow to discuss a mission by Israeli warplanes in Syrian airspace. The incident in question took place near the city of Palmyra last week.
Russia summoned the Israeli Ambassador Gary Koren for questioning, several Russian news outlets reported on Monday.
Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said the country "expressed concern" over the incident on March 17 during which the Israeli military bombed targets inside Syria. Syrian state forces used anti-aircraft weapons in retaliation.
At the time, the Syrian army said it had shot down an Israeli warplane, hit another and forced the rest to flee, but Israel's military denied that account. Israel said one Syrian missile was intercepted by its Arrow air defense system.
In comments carried by state news agency RIA Novosti on Monday, Bogdanov said Russia demanded that Israel more closely communicate its military plans in the region to avoid such incidents.
Russian troops were reportedly in the targeted region near the famed city of Palmyra, which had once again been captured by Syrian troops from "Islamic State" forces earlier in March.
Israel says Hezbollah targeted
Israel said its planes were targeting a weapons convoy destined for Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group bent on destroying Israel, which is fighting alongside troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
On Sunday, Israel's Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned Syria not to fire Israeli jets carrying out missions over Syrian territory.
"The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation," Lieberman said on Israeli public radio.
Russia is a key ally of Assad. Backing from Moscow has seen the military conflict turn in Assad's favor in recent months. Russia has also maintained close relations with Israel despite the long-standing animosity between Syria and the Jewish state. Israel seized most of the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967 and annexed it in 1981, a move never recognized by the international community.
The multisided Syrian war has been going on for more than six years, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives and forcing millions to flee their homes. While Israel has mostly kept out of the war, its military has from time to time been reported to have conducted airstrikes within Syria, especially against Hezbollah forces. Israel's government normally neither confirms nor denies these strikes.
se/rc (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)