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Sunday 26 January 2020

Israel shoots down Syrian fighter after ‘airspace breach’

The Syrian Sukhoi fighter was brought down by a pair of Patriot missiles after it penetrated Israeli territory by just over a mile.

Trails of Patriot missiles are seen in the sky in northern Israel (David Cohen/Flash90/AP)
Trails of Patriot missiles are seen in the sky in northern Israel (David Cohen/Flash90/AP)

By Philip Issa

Israel has shot down a Syrian fighter jet it claimed had breached Israeli airspace.

The incident came as advancing Syrian government forces who had retaken territory from rebels reached the Golan Heights frontier for the first time in seven years.

The Israeli military said it monitored the advance of the Syrian Sukhoi fighter jet and shot it down with a pair of Patriot missiles after it penetrated Israeli airspace by just over a mile.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the breach of Israeli territory a “gross violation” of a 1974 agreement that established the demilitarised zone between Israel and Syria.

Syria’s military, however, said one of its jets had been targeted by Israel over Syrian territory as it flew sorties against Islamic State (IS) militants.

Syrian forces have been battling rebels and IS militants at the frontier with Israel for weeks in a campaign to restore President Bashar Assad’s rule over south-western Syria.

On Tuesday, government forces reached the border fence where a UN peacekeeping force is deployed at the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

It is the first time the Syrian government had managed to retake the area since 2011, when an uprising swept through Syria against Mr Assad.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967. The UN deployed peacekeepers between the two sides in 1974.

Mr Netanyahu said of the airspace breach: “I have reiterated and made clear that we will not accept any such violation. We will not accept any such penetration of or spillover into our territory, neither on the ground nor from the air.”

Israel’s military has been on “elevated alert” along the frontier because of activity on the Syrian side of the fence, said military spokesman Lt Col Jonathan Conricus.

Israel has warned Syria through various channels not to violate the 1974 agreement, he added.

Minutes before the reported downing of the jet, Syria’s state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV was broadcasting footage from the fence demarcating the UN buffer zone between Syrian and Israeli forces in the Golan Heights. A UN observer post could be seen just on the other side of the fence.

The camera showed an Israeli post about 440 yards away.

Israel’s military said the Syrian jet took off from the T4 air base, which Israel is believed to have attacked earlier this year in its bid to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria. Seven Iranian military personnel were killed in that strike.

The plane flew toward Israel at “relatively high speed” before breaching the country’s airspace, said Lt Col Conricus. He said it was unknown if the plane deliberately crossed into Israel.

The plane crashed in the southern part of the Syrian Golan Heights, he said. There were no reports on the condition of the pilot.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said one pilot was killed and that the condition of the other was unknown.

PA Media

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