Russian minister blames Israel after military aircraft shot down over Syria with loss of 15 lives

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia is blaming Israel for the loss of one of its planes - and 15 people onboard - over Syria.

Russian state television says Defense Ministry Sergei Shoigu in a phone call to his Israeli counterpart has said Israel is responsible for the shooting down of the Russian military aircraft.

The Russian military said on Tuesday that the reconnaissance aircraft was brought down by a Syrian missile over the Mediterranean late on Monday, killing all on board. It said the plane was caught in the crossfire as four Israeli fighters attacked targets in northwestern Syria.

Russian TV quoted a Defense Ministry statement as saying that Shoigu told Avigdor Lieberman that Israel is "fully to blame" for the deaths of the 15 people onboard.

Russia said the Israeli aircraft "pushed" the Russian plane into the line of fire. The ministry accused the Israeli army of "intentional provocation" and said Israel did not warn Russia of its operation in the area until one minute before the strike.

Shoigu said Russia had not been notified of Israel's operation in the area despite the hotline between the two countries that should be preventing such accidents.

He added that Russia "reserves the right" to respond to Israel's actions.

A pro-government Syrian newspaper says the agreement reached between Russia and Turkey over the northwestern rebel-held Syrian province of Idlib envisions three stages in returning Damascus government institutions to the area.

The daily Al-Watan reported on Tuesday that the agreement struck in Sochi the day before also calls for the establishing of a demilitarized zone along all the front line in Idlib by Oct. 15. The rebels are to hand over their heavy weapons under the supervision of Russia and Turkey by Nov. 10.

The paper says the third phase will see government institutions return to the rebel-held region after militants withdraw from residential areas.

The agreement between the leaders of Russia and Turkey on Monday is thought to have averted an all-out offensive by government forces to retake the last remaining rebel stronghold in Idlib.

Russia has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and it has two military bases in the country, including one close to the Mediterranean coast.