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Syria army says shot down Israeli plane, hit another

Israeli regime’s warplanes strike several targets in Syria suspected to be arms convoy meant for Hezbollah

Damascus: The Syrian army said Friday it shot down an Israeli plane and hit a second one as they were carrying out pre-dawn strikes near the famed desert city of Palmyra.

“Our air defence engaged them and shot down one warplane over occupied territory, hit another one, and forced the rest to flee,” the army said in a statement carried by state news agency Sana.

The Israeli air force said earlier that it had carried out several strikes on Syria overnight, but that none of the ground-to-air missiles fired by Syrian forces in response had hit Israeli aircraft.

Anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria into Israeli-controlled territory early on Friday, following a series of Israeli air strikes inside Syria, the Israeli military said.

The regime’s military said its warplanes struck several targets in Syria and were back in Israeli-controlled airspace when several anti-aircraft missiles were launched from Syria toward the Israeli jets.

Israeli aerial defence systems intercepted one of the missiles, the army said, but did not elaborate. It would not say whether any other missiles struck Israeli-held territory, but it said the safety of Israeli civilians and the safety of the Israeli aircraft “were not compromised.”

The army said the incident set off sirens in Jewish colony communities in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.

The firing of missiles from Syria toward Israeli aircraft is extremely rare, though Israeli military officials said there was a shoulder-fired missile a few months ago.

There was no immediate comment from the government in Damascus, nor its ally Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group that is believed to possess such missiles.

Israeli Channel 10 TV reported that Israel deployed its Arrow defence system for the first time against a real threat and hit an incoming missile intercepting it before it exploded in Israel.

It also showed footage from Jordan of what was described as remnants of the missile. It said the Israeli military had been on a mission to destroy a weapons convoy destined for the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

It was not immediately clear how debris from the missile may have ended up in neighbouring Jordan.

Other Israeli media also reported that the Arrow was deployed. The Haaretz daily said the interception took place north of Jerusalem. However, the Arrow is designed to intercept missiles in the stratosphere so it remained unclear why the system would have been used in this particular incident.

The regime’s army had no immediate comment on the reports.

The Arrow is mainly designed for ballistic missiles. It is part of what Israel calls its “multilayer missile defence” comprised of different systems meant to protect against short and long range threats, including the thousands of missiles possessed by Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon and rockets used by Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza.

Israel has been largely unaffected by the Syrian civil war raging next door, suffering mostly sporadic incidents of spillover fire over the frontier that Israel has generally dismissed as tactical errors by Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s government forces. Israel has responded to these cases lightly, with limited reprisals on Syrian positions in response to the errant fire.

The Jordan Valley part of the West Bank borders Jordan. Israel captured it along with the rest of the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war. Palestinians demand the areas for a future state.

Israel is widely believed to have carried out a number of air strikes on advanced weapons systems in Syria — including Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and Iranian-made missiles, as well as Hezbollah positions — but it rarely confirms them.

Hezbollah is a close ally of the Syrian government and is fighting alongside Al Assad’s forces in Syria’s civil war. The Shiite Lebanese militant group is a fierce enemy of Israel and fought a bitter month-long war with the Jewish state in 2006.