Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic has criticized Israel after its military jets took part in a ceremony in Croatia marking a victorious military operation at the end of the Balkan country’s 1991-95 war against rebel Serbs.
"It's sad that an Israeli flag flew yesterday at the celebration of that criminal action," Dacic told Belgrade’s Pink TV station on August 6.
Three Israeli Air Force F-16s took part in a flyby during the August 5 ceremony celebrating the 23rd anniversary of Operation Storm (Oluja), which restored Croatia's control over land held by Belgrade-backed Croatian Serb forces.
In addition to many hundreds of civilian deaths, some 200,000 Serbs were forced to flee their homes as a result of the operation, in what was described as the war's largest exodus of Serbs.
The Israeli Embassy in Belgrade said that the Israeli jets’ participation was related "solely" to the announced purchase of Israeli F-16s by Croatia, according to AP.
"This has no political elements or any connection to the historic relations between Serbia and Croatia," AP quoted the embassy as saying in a statement. The “solid friendship” between Israel and Serbia “will never be jeopardized in any way," it added.
But Dacic said it is "immoral" that Israel took part in the commemoration when tens of thousands of people -- mostly Jews, Serbs, Roma, and antifascist Croats -- perished in concentration camps run by the Croatian Ustasha regime during World War II.
Serbian leaders on August 4 marked the anniversary of Operation Storm, with President Aleksandar Vucic comparing the offensive to the policies of Nazi Germany.
"[Adolf] Hitler wanted a world without Jews; Croatia and its policies wanted Croatia without Serbs,” Vucic said.
An estimated 6 million Jews were killed in the genocide carried out by Nazi Germany during World War II.
Lawmaker Branko Bacic of the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) called Vucic's comments a "historic lie."
Croatia split from the former Yugoslavia in 1991 and fought Croatian Serb forces for four years to establish its sovereignty.
Relations between Serbia and Croatia -- an EU and NATO member -- have since remained volatile.
Vucic has pledged to boost cooperation with other Balkan states and lead Serbia toward EU membership while improving ties with Russia.