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Russia sets up 'hotline' with Israel to avoid Syria clashes

Israeli and Russian militaries are undergoing training on how to cooperate in Syria
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin (AFP)

Russia's defence ministry said on Thursday that its forces in Syria had set up a "hotline" with Israel's military to avoid clashes in the sky over the war-torn country.

An "information-sharing" mechanism "has been established through a hotline between the Russian aviation command centre at the Hmeimim air base (in Syria) and a command post of the Israeli air force," the ministry said in a statement, adding that the two sides were undergoing training on how to cooperate.

Russia and Israel have been working to find a way to avoid unintended collisions between their aircraft over Syria since President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to set up a "mechanism" at talks in Moscow last month. 

Russia launched a bombing campaign in Syria on 30 September at the request of its long-standing ally Bashar al-Assad that Moscow says is targeting Islamic State (IS) militants and other "terrorist" groups. 

Israel has reportedly launched airstrikes in Syria against Iranian arms transfers to Hezbollah and Israeli officials are believed to fear accidental clashes between their jets and those of Russia.

The United States and its allies involved in a coalition bombing IS have sharply criticised Russia's air campaign and say that the majority of its strikes have hit more "moderate" rebel groups fighting Assad.

Moscow has blasted the accusations and says Washington has rebuffed calls to cooperate more closely.

The two sides have, however, held three rounds of talks aimed at establishing protocols to avoid any accidental collision but progress has been slow and no final details have been agreed. 

Putin blasts US for 'unconstructive position' on Syria

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday blasted Washington for being "unconstructive" on Syria after the Kremlin said the United States had declined to host a high-level delegation from Moscow.

"I believe this is an unconstructive position," Putin said.

"I don't quite understand how our American partners can criticise Russia's actions in Syria in the fight against international terrorism if they refuse to hold direct dialogue even in such an important area as political settlement."

"What apparently lies at the heart of the weakness of the American position is a lack of any kind of agenda," Putin said in televised remarks. 

"It looks like they have nothing to talk about."

"Nevertheless, we are keeping our doors open and very much hope for dialogue with all the participants of this complicated process, including with our American partners."

Earlier this week Putin said he was willing to send a high-ranking delegation to the United States led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. 

He also accused Washington of seeming not to know what its goals were in Syria.

"I believe some of our partners simply have mush for brains," Putin said this week.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Thursday Washington had declined to host a Russian delegation and also refused to send its own mission to Moscow.

Washington said it was not interested in having any talks while Moscow keeps bombing Western-backed rebels in Syria under cover of its fight against IS militants. 

"We've said that we're not interested in doing that as long as Russia is not willing to make a constructive contribution to our counter-ISIL effort," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

"Russia has their own agenda, and it’s an agenda right now that they're pursuing on their own."

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