March 17, 2017 / 1:37 AM / 4 months ago

Israel intercepts missile fired at its air force in Syria

4 Min Read

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli military said it shot down one of numerous anti-aircraft missiles launched on Friday at its air force which was operating in Syria, in a rare such incident that spilled over into neighbouring countries.

The Syrian army said it had shot down an Israeli jet during the operation. Israel denied this, saying that all its aircraft had returned unscathed.

"At no point was the safety of Israeli civilians or the IAF (Israeli Air Force) aircraft compromised," an Israeli military spokesman said.

Rocket sirens had sounded in the early morning in Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank and two Reuters witnesses heard an explosion a few minutes later.

The military said in its statement that one of the anti-aircraft missiles had been intercepted. The blast was heard as far away as Jerusalem, dozens of miles away. There were no reports of casualties or damage.

A Jordanian civil defence source said a projectile had landed in a village on the outskirts of the northern Jordanian city of Irbid, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the Syrian and Israeli borders, causing light damage.

The source said army engineers were examining the object, believed to be fired from Syrian territory in the direction of Israel. Video posted on social media purported to show remnants of a rocket, possibly parts of the intercepting missile, though Reuters was unable to independently verify the footage.

"Overnight IAF (Israeli Air Force) aircraft targeted several targets in Syria. Several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria following the mission and IDF (Israel Defence Force) Aerial Defence Systems intercepted one of the missiles," the Israeli military said in its statement.

Israel has carried out dozens of strikes to prevent weapons smuggling to the Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which is fighting rebels alongside the Syrian army. However, the interception of a missile making its way over the Syrian border was an uncommon incident.

Syria's army high command said in a statement on Friday that Israeli jets had breached Syrian air space early in the morning and attacked a military target near Palmyra, in what it described as an act of aggression that aided Islamic State.

It said its air defences shot down one of the Israeli jets over what it called "occupied ground" and damaged another. Israel denies this.

Israeli media said the Syrian army had fired surface-to-air missiles at the Israeli aircraft. The military would not provide further details on the targets it struck, nor on the amount or type of projectiles launched at its forces.

An Israeli military source said Israel's Arrow ballistic missile shield had identified an "incoming threat" and shot down one of the projectiles.

Last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss what he charged were Iran's attempts to establish a permanent military foothold in Syria.

Iran, Israel's arch-enemy, has been Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's staunchest backer and has provided militia fighters to help him. Israel is concerned Hezbollah, with which it fought a war in 2006, is trying to obtain sophisticated weapons it could use against Israel.

Additional reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Jordan, Angus McDowall in Beirut; Sabreen Taha in Jerusalem and Jeffrey Heller in Modiin; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Toby Chopra

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