‘large-scale attack’ in Syria by Israeli after F-16 fighter jet shot down
Israel says it has launched air strikes against air defences and Iranian targets in Syria, while the Syrian army claims to have hit an Israeli F-16 that crashed in northern Israel in a major escalation of tension in the region.
The Israeli military said the F-16 jet crashed after it came under fire during a mission to strike Iranian drone installations in Syria, after earlier shooting down an Iranian drone reportedly flying over Israeli territory.
The two pilots managed to eject before the crash. One was seriously wounded and the other suffered minor injuries.
Israel’s military said its planes struck 12 targets in response, including three aerial defence batteries and four Iranian targets that are part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria.
Despite the retaliation, Israel said it did not seek an escalation in the region.
“We are willing, prepared and capable to exact a heavy price from anyone that attacks us, however we are not looking to escalate the situation,” a military spokesman said.
“This was a defensive effort triggered by an Iranian act of aggression and we are defending our airspace our sovereignty and civilians.”
But the military alliance fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Israeli claims that a drone entered Israeli airspace were a “lie”, adding Israel would witness a “severe and serious” response to its “terrorism” from now on.
Iran also rejected the claim.
“Reports of downing an Iranian drone flying over Israel and also Iran’s involvement in attacking an Israeli jet are so ridiculous … Iran only provides military advice to Syria,” state television quoted Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.
Iranian and Iran-backed forces have established a major foothold in Syria while fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad.
Iran’s expanding clout during Syria’s nearly seven-year-long war, including deployments of Iran-backed forces near the Golan frontier, has raised alarm in Israel, which has said it would act against any threat from its regional arch-enemy Tehran.
The clashes marked a dangerous new confrontation between the international powers caught up in Syria’s war.
Iranian and Iran-backed Shiite forces, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, have deployed widely in support of Mr Assad.
Iran’s military chief warned Israel last October against breaching Syrian airspace and territory.
Israel’s air force has targeted Syrian military and Hezbollah targets in Syria on an almost regular basis, but its attacks yesterday appeared to be the most intense yet.
Referring to the downed Israeli F-16, an official in the pro-Assad alliance said a “message” had been delivered to Israel.
“I do not believe matters will develop to a regional war,” the official said.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was seriously concerned by the latest developments, and urged all sides to exercise restraint.
“It is necessary to unconditionally respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and other countries in the region.”
In Washington, President Donald Trump’s administration has backed Israel’s hawkish stance on Iran, and declared containing Tehran’s influence an objective of its Syria policy.
On a visit to Israel last month, US Vice-President Mike Pence called Iran the world’s “leading state sponsor of terror”.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is also expected to visit the region in the coming week to discuss the crisis in Syria and other issues, and is scheduled to visit Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and other countries.
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