Russia’s defence ministry has said that one if its military aircraft with 14 people on board has disappeared from radar screens over Syria.
“Connection has been lost with the crew of a Russian Il-20 plane over the Mediterranean Sea 35 kilometres from the Syrian coast as it was returning to the Hmeimim airbase,” the Russian defence ministry said early on Tuesday.
The fate of the military personnel is “unknown,” the ministry said in a statement which was carried by Russian news agencies. A search for the plane was underway.
A search-and-rescue source told the Interfax news agency that the Russian warplane could have sunk in the Mediterranean Sea as a result of an “unforeseen critical incident” in the air.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters, said the US government believed Syrian defences may have accidentally shot down the Russian aircraft while firing at incoming Israeli missiles “The missiles were not fired by the US military and we have nothing further at this time,” a spokesperson for the Pentagon told the Guardian.
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. At the same time Russian air control radar systems detected rocket launches from the French frigate Auvergne which was located in that region.”
An Israeli military spokeswoman when asked about both the reported Israeli strike and the Russian plane said: “We don’t comment on foreign reports.”
“The French army denies any involvement in this attack,” a French army spokesman said.
Reports of the downed plane came after missiles were fired from the sea at several locations in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia on Monday. Syrian state media said these were intercepted by air defences.
“Air defences have confronted enemy missiles coming from the sea in the direction of the Latakia city, and intercepted a number of them,” Sana quoted a military source as saying.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, said huge explosions were heard in the city, wounding more than 10 people, whom they identified as “regime forces and military personnel”.
Russia’s military operation in Syria, which began in late 2015, has turned the tide of the conflict in favour of Moscow’s ally, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, in his fight against rebels.