*MOSCOW: *The Russian army on Friday accused Israel of using a civilian plane carrying 172 passengers as a shield against Syrian anti-aircraft fire while carrying out airstrikes near Damascus.

Israel’s air force hit targets in the capital area at dawn on Thursday sparking a Syrian riposte, Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement.

“At the time of the attack by Israeli planes… an Airbus-320 airliner was on approach to landing… in the death zone of airstrikes and artillery,” it said.

The “quick reaction” of air traffic controllers at Damascus airport enabled the A320 to leave the zone “which was in the firing line of Syrian anti-aircraft defence systems.”

The Airbus arriving from Tehran landed safely at the Hmeimim airbase operated by Russia in the Syrian coastal province of Latakia, the ministry added, without naming the airline.

“The recourse to civilian aircraft as cover or to block a riposte by Syrian forces during military air operations has become characteristic of the Israeli air force,” the ministry charged.

Israeli radars have “a clear view of the situation in the skies around Damascus airport,” the Russian army said, accusing Israel of “making a total mockery of the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians”.

The accusations were made less than a month after Iranian forces admitted mistakenly shooting down a Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737, killing all 176 people on board, just after take-off from Tehran.

The disaster unfolded with Iran on high alert fearing US retaliation to Iranian strikes hours earlier on American troops stationed in Iraq.

Thursday’s Israeli strikes killed 23 Syrian and foreign fighters, a monitoring group said.

Israel has carried out repeated strikes in Syria since the civil war erupted in 2011, mainly targeting government forces and their Iranian and Hezbollah allies. -APP/AFP

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