Air force downs unidentified aircraft in north amid escalating tensions with Iran

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Air force helicopters and fighter jets shot down an unidentified aircraft that appeared to have crossed Israeli airspace from Syria on Sunday, the military said.

The incident occurred amid rising tensions between Israel and Iran over Iran’s presence on Israel’s northern border, and after a series of airstrikes attributed to Israel in Syria.

The military tracked down the unidentified aircraft and “took it down over an open area,” without threatening residents of the area, the IDF said in a statement.

Air raid tires were not heard at any time during the incident.

Hebrew media said the military believes the aircraft is of Iranian origin.

About an hour after the invasion, Syrian media reported explosions at an airport near the capital Damascus, but did not blame Israel. Syrian state media have generally been quick to attribute airstrikes in the country to Israel and have done so repeatedly in recent weeks.

Tensions in northern Israel have risen following a series of airstrikes in Syria, a terror attack believed to have been carried out by an intruder from Lebanon, and threats between Israeli and Iranian officials.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (second from right), during a briefing in the West Bank on April 2, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defence)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant warned Iran and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorist group on Sunday that Israel would not accept any attempts to harm the country or its citizens.

“We have tension on all fronts,” Gallant said in a pre-Passover toast to soldiers in the West Bank’s Etzion Brigade, saying Iran was trying to advance in the territory.

“The Iranians are extending their reach into Judea and Samaria and Gaza, and they are trying to entrench themselves in Syria and Lebanon,” Gallant said. “We will not let the Iranians or Hezbollah harm us. We have not allowed it in the past, we will not allow it now, or at any time in the future.”

“If necessary, we will push them out of Syria to where they belong – and that is Iran,” he said.

Also on Sunday, Israel’s intelligence and imagery company, ImageSat International, published images it said showed damage to the Syrian military airport at al-Dabaa near Homs in an alleged airstrike the previous night. the second in two days.

ImageSat said the airstrike likely targeted Iran-backed Hezbollah drone activity, destroying an aircraft shed, a UAV communications station and a communications vehicle. Syria said five soldiers were wounded.

This photo released by ImageSat International on April 2, 2023, shows damage to al-Dabaa airport in Syria after airstrikes attributed to Israel a day earlier. (ImageSat International)

Western intelligence sources told Reuters that the strikes hit a series of air bases in central Syria, where Iranian personnel are based.

Iran said on Sunday that a second member of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) died of injuries sustained in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria on Friday. Another IRGC adviser, Milad Heydari, was also killed in the strike.

The IRGC threatened to avenge the incident, saying: “Undoubtedly the Zionist regime will find an answer for this crime.”

Several Israeli media outlets reported unconfirmed assessments that the string of airstrikes in Syria – three out of four consecutive nights – could be linked to a suspected Hezbollah bombing last month near Megiddo in northern Israel, which Jerusalem believes was carried out terrorists who crossed the Lebanese border. fence using a ladder. One man was seriously injured in the attack.

Although many details of the Megiddo bombing investigation are under a publication ban, Haaretz cited speculation that the series of airstrikes on Iranian targets in Syria could indicate IRGC involvement in the latest security incidents.

As a general rule, the Israeli military does not comment on specific strikes in Syria, but they have admitted that they have carried out hundreds of sorties over the past decade against Iranian-backed groups trying to gain a foothold in the country.

The IDF says it also attacks weapons shipments believed to be bound for those groups, including Hezbollah. In addition, airstrikes attributed to Israel have repeatedly targeted Syrian air defense systems.

The latest alleged airstrikes followed two attacks in recent weeks against Aleppo International Airport, which have also been blamed on Israel. The attacks temporarily closed the airport’s runway. Also this month, Israel carried out a rare daytime strike against targets in northwestern Syria, injuring three soldiers and causing damage, Syria’s SANA news agency said.

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