A Russian military plane with 14 servicemen aboard was accidentally shot down by Syrian air defenses as they tried to repel an alleged Israeli strike on Monday, a US official told CNN.
The official added that the plane was downed by a Russian-made missile system which Moscow sold to its Syrian ally.
Russian state news TASS said the IL-20 disappeared over the Mediterranean on Monday evening was as it returning to Latakia province at the same time as the suspected strike by Israel, and that concurrently France was also firing rockets nearby.
“Connection has been lost with the crew of a Russian Il-20 plane over the Mediterranean Sea 35 kilometers from the Syrian coast as it was returning to the Hmeimim airbase,” the Russian defense ministry said, adding that communications were lost at the time of the suspected Israeli attack.
“At the same time Russian air control radar systems detected rocket launches from the French frigate Auvergne which was located in that region,” Russia’s TASS news agency quoted the defense ministry as saying, according to Reuters.
A rescue operation has been launched.
Israel does not regularly comment on alleged strikes in Syria.
An Israeli military spokeswoman, when asked about both the reported Israeli strike and the Russian plane, said: “We don’t comment on foreign reports.”
Syrian state media earlier reported that a Syrian facility linked to the country’s chemical weapons program was bombed on Monday night, triggering Syrian air defenses.
The state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV reported loud explosions in the coastal Latakia province, saying they were likely from Israeli strikes targeting a state company for technical industries.
Explosions continued for nearly a half hour, said state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV, which aired footage showing streaks of white light flashing across the sky. An unidentified military official was quoted as saying Syrian air defenses intercepted some missiles heading for the provincial capital of Latakia from the sea.
Al-Ikhbariya said 10 people were injured and two required hospitalization.
— Qalaat Al Mudiq (@QalaatAlMudiq) September 17, 2018
A Pentagon spokesman said the United States was not involved and declined to provide further details.
“The missiles were not fired by the US military and we have nothing further at this time,” he said.
A French army spokesman also denied any involvement.
Syrian military sources told SANA that the attack came from the direction of the sea and targeted an Organization for Technological Industries center in Latakia.
The sources also claimed the country’s air defenses shot down a number of incoming missiles. The Syrian army has regularly been accused of exaggerating its interception capabilities.
The attack caused a large explosion and knocked out power to the surrounding area, according to local media.
The Organization for Technological Industries is a subsidiary of the Syrian Ministry of Defense and has been tied to the developments of both missiles and chemical weapons.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the explosions, saying the target appeared to be an ammunition depot, part of the compound of the organization. The war monitoring group said it was not clear if the depot was for Iranian or Syrian forces.
The strikes followed a similar attack on Damascus International Airport late Saturday, which Syrian state media also blamed on Israel. A military official quoted then on state media said Syrian air defenses intercepted some missiles coming from the sea.
Other attacks were reported on September 4 that targeted sites in the coastal Tartus area and in Hama province. The Observatory said at the time that the attacks were believed aimed at Iranian military posts.
Israel is alleged to have been behind a series of airstrikes mainly targeting Iranian and Hezbollah forces in Syria that have joined the country’s war fighting alongside the government. Israel rarely acknowledges attacks inside Syria, but has said it will use military action to prevent weapons transfers to its enemies.
Earlier this month, an Israeli military official said the Jewish state has struck over 200 Iranian targets in Syria over the past 18 months.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.