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18:20) Reports: Ukrainian army shot down plane
By Jerusalem Post Internet Staff, Ap


It is being reported here that the Ukranian army may have fired a missile that
shot down the Sibir Airlines plane that crashed into the Black Sea this
afternoon en route from Israel to Siberia.

A senior Ukranian nayy officer, Igor Larichev, said the missile accidentally
hit the plane that was carrying some 75 - 77 passengers and crew.

However, a short time later, Ukraine's Defense Ministry issued a statement
denying that it fired a missile that was capable of hitting the plane.

It is understood the Ukrainian army may have fired some 20 missiles today as
part of military exercises in the area of the Black Sea.

"All the rockets used during the training exercise had guaranteed service lives
and self-destruction mechanisms in case they deviated from their course," said
Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk, according to a statement released by
ministry spokesman Kostyantyn Khivrenko.

A U.S. Defense Department official in Washington, speaking on condition of
anonymity, said a land-based surface-to-air missile had been fired from the
Crimean region of Ukraine.

Ukraine is the only country known to be conducting military
exercises in the Black Sea area, the official said.

The downing of the airliner appeared to be accidental, the
U.S. officials said.

Romanian and French pilots are also taking part in an air exercise in the
region of Romania's Black Sea port of Constanta, Romanian officials have said.
The exercise apparently includes the firing of air-to-ground missiles.

The Ukrainian exercises were conducted on Cape Onuk, in Crimea, about 250
kilometers (160 miles) from the site of
the crash, on territory controlled by the Russian Black Sea
Fleet.

Ukrainian anti-aircraft, navy, rocket forces, aviation and artillery took part
as well as Russian forces including shore-based forces and a guard ship.

Part of the exercise involved firing on an unmanned aircraft.

According to military officials, the exercise included anti-aircraft S-125, S-
200 and S-300 rockets, which are similar to U.S. "Patriot" missiles, and R-300
tactical rockets.

"The direction of the firing and the distance do not correspond to the plane's
explosion site either in theory or in practice. All the hits by the rockets
used during the exercise were recorded by corresponding devices and reached
their targets," Khivrenko, the Ukrainian defense spokesman, said.

"Moreover, the monitoring means of Ukraine's Air Defense
Forces as well as those of the Ukrainian air traffic control did not record the
presence of any civilian aircraft in the exercise area during the maneuvers."

He said that the targets were at a distance of 35-39 kilometers (21-24 miles).
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