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Russia Summons Israeli Envoy Over Concern About Air Strikes In Syria

Ruins in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, which Russian troops have been demining
Ruins in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, which Russian troops have been demining

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on March 20 that it had summoned Israel's ambassador to express concern about air strikes that hit close to Russian forces last week around the Syrian city of Palmyra.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that Ambassador Gary Koren was summoned on March 17 and "asked about" the strikes. The ministry "expressed concern" about the action taking place near Russian military locations, he said.

Russia, which has been backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's troops with a bombing campaign in the country's six-year civil war, said earlier this month that more than 180 of its troops have started demining efforts around the ancient city of Palmyra's historic monuments.

Russia and Israel have set up a "hotline" aimed at avoiding air clashes over Syria. Bogdanov said Moscow "would like this channel to work more effectively" to ensure no "misunderstanding on who is doing what."

Israeli warplanes struck several targets on March 17, prompting retaliatory Syrian missile launches, in the most serious incident between the two countries since the war began six years ago.

Israel's military said it was targeting weapons bound for Lebanon's Hizballah movement, an Iranian-backed militia which has been battling for years alongside Assad's forces.

Syria's military said it had downed an Israeli plane and hit another as they were carrying out predawn strikes near Palmyra, which the government recaptured from the Islamic State this month.

The Israeli military denied that any planes had been hit.

On March 19, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to destroy Syria's air defense systems "without the slightest hesitation" if there was a similar incident in the future.

Russia has deployed its own high-tech missile defense systems to Syria to protect its forces there.

Russia's summons of the Israeli ambassador comes within days of a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow where they said they discussed the Syrian conflict.

The slap at Israel prompted Assad to say on March 20 that his ally Russia will play an important role in preventing any further clashes between his forces and Israel.

"Russia can play a role so that Israel no longer attacks Syria," Assad told Russian journalists.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, Interfax, and TASS
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