Syria’s President Bashar Assad said Monday that Israel acted deliberately during a September 17 incident that led to the downing of a Russian spy aircraft by Syrian forces, which were responding to an Israeli strike over Syrian airspace.
In an interview with an Omani newspaper, a Gulf state that has seen a recent warming of ties with Israel, Assad said that Damascus and Moscow had reached a consensus that the downing of the place was not an accident.
“Our leadership is united with the Russians, and it is clear that the incident is deliberate. The Russian media is transparent and has managed to expose the lies of some of the claims,” he said, according to Ynet.
The interview came after Russian President Vladimir Putin told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday that Israel and Russia must improve their military cooperation in Syria.
Putin emphasized the importance of upcoming consultations between defense experts from the two countries during the conversation, which was held at the initiative of Netanyahu, the Kremlin said.
The two leaders were said to be considering holding a meeting in person.
Ties between the two countries have been strained since Russia’s delivery of the S-300 missile defense system to Syria following the downing of Moscow’s plane.
Russia has blamed Israel for the incident, which killed 15 Russian crew members. Israel has emphatically denied responsibility.
Although Putin initially told reporters that the incident was due to a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances,” the Russian defense ministry later declared that Israel was responsible, saying the Israeli Air Force jets used the Russian plane as cover.
Israel rejected the accusation.
Israel has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran, or its Shiite proxies, to establish a permanent presence in postwar Syria. It has launched numerous attacks on targets it says are a threat to its security.
Russia, which is a main backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has maintained a deconfliction hotline with Israel, allowing the Jewish state to carry out the attacks as long as it is informed beforehand.