Russia: Israeli Strike Near Damascus Endangered Passenger Plane

An Airbus A320 with 172 passengers on board was forced to make an emergency landing in Russia-controlled Khmeimim air base, defense ministry says

Light in the sky, believed to be a missile, is seen in Damascus, Syria, November 20, 2019.
Firas Makdesi/Reuters

An Airbus A320 with 172 passengers on board made an emergency landing in Russia-controlled Khmeimim air base after Syrian air defense nearly hit it, Russian state news agency RIA said on Friday citing Russian Defense Ministry spokesman.

The Syrian forces were responding to Israeli strikes on targets in Syria, Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, quoted by Interfax and other Russian agencies.

According to the spokesman, after 2 A.M., four Israeli F-16 fighter jets launched eight air-to-ground missiles in the suburbs of Damascus without entering Syrian airspace, RIA reported.

The Syrian Defense Ministry said on Thursday it had intercepted Israeli missiles over Damascus that were fired at military targets in southern Syria. Israel has declined to comment

The Airbus A320 had been coming into land at Damascus International Airport when it was forced to divert to the nearest alternative airfield, the Hmeimim Air Base near Latakia in northwest Syria, which is operated by the Russian military.

Konashenkov did not name the airline but data from Flight Radar indicated it was a Syrian Cham Wings plane. The airline could not immediately be reached for comment.

Konashenkov accused Israel of using civilian aircraft as cover to block Syrian air defenses from responding to Israeli combat missions, which he said had become a characteristic feature of the Israeli air force.

"Such operations by Israeli strategists gamble the lives of hundreds of innocent people," Konashenkov said.

"The movement of regular passenger flights both in Syrian airspace and around the world is carried out in known, high-altitude echelons, which Israeli radar can clearly see."

Spokespeople for the Israeli military and foreign ministry declined to comment.

The alleged Israeli airstrikes near Damascus were followed by contradictory reports on casualties.    

Syrian state media reported that eight soldiers were wounded, while an opposition war monitoring group said that 23 people died in the strikes, which targeted army positions and Iran-backed fighters.

Meanwhile, State news agency SANA said that Syrian air defenses shot down most of the missiles in the suburbs of the capital and the country's south before they reached their targets. It also reported that the Israeli warplanes fired the missiles while flying over the Golan Heights and neighboring Lebanon.

The first attack targeted military positions in the vicinity of Damascus, while the second took place 30 minutes later striking military positions in the vicinity of Daraa, Quneitra and Reef Damascus provinces, SANA reported, quoting a military source.

Last month, the Syrian army said Israeli jets attacked the main T-4 air base in Homs province, and that its air defenses downed several missiles in strikes that caused only material damage. In December, it said the air defense system intercepted missiles fired from the direction of Israel aimed at targets on the outskirts Damascus