Israeli jet shot down after bombing Iranian site in Syria

Israeli jet shot down after bombing Iranian site in Syria

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JERUSALEM/BEIRUT: Anti-aircraft fire downed an Israeli warplane returning from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria on Saturday in the most serious confrontations yet between Israel and Iranian-backed forces based across the border.
The F-16, one of at least eight Israeli planes despatched in response to what Israel said was an Iranian drone`s incursion into its airspace earlier in the day, was hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile and crashed in northern Israel, an Israeli official told Reuters.
Both pilots ejected and were injured, one critically.
Israel then launched a second and more intensive air raid, hitting what it said were 12 Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria, including Syrian air defence systems.
Lebanon`s Iran-backed Hezbollah group said the downing of the plane marked the “start of a new strategic phase” which would limit Israel`s ability to enter Syrian airspace.
Iran`s involvement in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad in a nearly seven-year-old civil war – including the deployment of Iran-backed forces near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights – has alarmed Israel, which has said it would counter any threat.
But both Israel and Syria signalled they were not seeking wider conflict, even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to military headquarters in Tel Aviv and the pro-Assad alliance pledged a strong response to any Israeli “terrorist action”.
Russia, whose forces began intervening on behalf of Assad in 2015, expressed its concern and urged both sides to exercise restraint and avoid escalation.
A Western diplomat in the region said: “My impression is that it seems to be contained at this point. I don`t think anybody wants to escalate further.”
Saturday`s chain of events began at 4:30 a.m. (0230 GMT) when an Israeli Apache helicopter shot down an Iranian drone over the northern town of Beit Shean, the Israeli military said.
The drone had been sighted taking off from a base in Syria, and was intercepted after it crossed into Israeli territory, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.
Israeli planes then struck an Iranian installation in Syria from which, the Israeli military said, the unmanned aircraft had been operated.
The Israeli military released grainy black and white footage of what it said was the drone’s control vehicle in Syria being destroyed.
The F-16 crashed on its return from the mission, coming down in an empty field near Harduf, east of Haifa.
“We heard a big explosion and then sirens. We didn`t know what was happening, we heard helicopters and planes in the air,” said Yosi Sherer, 51, who was staying at a hostel near Haifa.

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