A Russian reconnaissance aircraft was brought down by a Syrian missile over the Mediterranean, killing all 15 people on board, the Russian defense ministry said Tuesday. It blamed Israel for the crash, saying the plane was caught in the crossfire as four Israeli fighters attacked targets in northwestern Syria.
The Russian military said that the Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft was hit 35 kilometers (22 miles) offshore late Monday as it was returning to its home base nearby.
"The Israeli pilots were using the Russian aircraft as a shield and pushed it into the line of fire of the Syrian defense," Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu called his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, later on Tuesday to say that Israel is "fully to blame" for the deaths, the ministry said.
The military said Israel did not warn it of its operation over Latakia province until one minute before the strike, which did not give the Russian plane enough time to escape.
Both the Israeli military and Israel's Foreign Ministry declined comment on the Russian claim.
The Russian Defense Ministry said a recovery operation in the Mediterranean Sea is underway and that it has already located the wreckage in the sea and has retrieved some bodies and some fragments of the plane.
The Kremlin sounded cautious in the aftermath of the attack, refusing to comment on a potential row with Israel.
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters that the Kremlin is "analyzing the situation" and does not want to speak further at this point.
For several years, Israel and Russia have maintained a special hotline to prevent their air forces from clashing in the skies over Syria. Israeli military officials have previously praised its effectiveness.
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.