A passenger plane was almost shot down near Damascus today after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air defence systems intercepted Israeli missiles aimed at targets in southern Syria.
A Syrian Chams Airline Airbus A320 carrying 172 passengers made an emergency landing in Russia-controlled Khmeimim air base this morning after Syrian air defences nearly hit it, a Russian Defence Ministry spokesman said.
The Syrian defence 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.
‘At the time of the attack by Israeli planes… an Airbus-320 airliner was on approach to landing… in the death zone of air strikes and artillery,’ the Russian ministry said.
The incident took place a month after a Ukraine International Airlines passenger plane crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. Iran later said its forces had shot it down unintentionally due to human error.
The United States imposed sanctions on Cham Wings in 2016 for allegedly transporting fighters to Syria to support Assad and for helping Syrian military intelligence transport weapons and equipment.
The flights, which almost always land late at night, do not appear in any airport or airline timetables, and fly in from either Damascus or Latakia, where Russia has a military base.
The Russian Defence Ministry spokesman praised the ‘quick reaction’ of air traffic controllers at Damascus airport enabled the A320 for moving out of the zone, ‘which was in the firing line of Syrian anti-aircraft defence systems.’
‘The recourse to civilian aircraft as cover or to block a riposte by Syrian forces during military air operations has become characteristic of the Israeli air force,’ the ministry charged.
Israeli radars have ‘a clear view of the situation in the skies around Damascus airport,’ the Russian army said, accusing Israel of ‘making a total mockery of the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians’.
Logged flight records indicate the plane was nearing landing after flying from Najaf in Iraq to Damascus. As the aircraft came under fire, it was forced to take off again and to land at the Russian-controlled airbase.
Both Israel and Syria have been embroiled in intermittent military confrontations since the creation of the Jewish state, which Damascus has never recognised.
The two countries also have a territorial dispute over the Golan Heights, an expanse of land in northern Israel or southwestern Syria.
In March last year, US President Donald Trump signed a proclamation recognizing Israel’s ‘sovereign right’ over the Golan Heights while stood beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.
Deepening the cracks between the two nations is Iran’s use of Syrian ground as a theatre for its proxy wars and Tehran’s support of the Assad regime during the civil war.
In November last year, the IDF said they had intercepted four rockets being fired into Israeli territory, from Syria, moments before ‘retaliatory’ explosions were heard in Damascus.
Just one day later, the Israeli military said it struck dozens of Iranian targets in the Arab Republic, carrying out a ‘wide-scale’ strike in response to rocket fire on the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights the day before.
A Britain-based war monitoring group said the Israeli airstrikes killed 23 people, including 15 non-Syrians who are most likely Iranians. Syrian state media only reported that two civilians were killed.
The Israeli military said its fighter jets hit multiple targets belonging to Iran’s elite Quds force, including surface-to-air missiles, weapons warehouses and military bases.
After the Syrian military fired an air defense missile, the Israeli military said a number of Syrian aerial defense batteries were also destroyed.
The accusations were made less than a month after Iranian forces admitted mistakenly shooting down a Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737, killing all 176 people on board, just after take-off from Tehran.
The disaster unfolded with Iran on high alert fearing US retaliation to Iranian strikes hours earlier on American troops stationed in Iraq.
Thursday’s Israeli strikes killed 23 Syrian and foreign fighters, a monitoring group said.
Israel has carried out repeated strikes in Syria since the civil war erupted in 2011, mainly targeting government forces and their Iranian and Hezbollah allies.