IDF dismisses Syria claim it shot down 2 Israeli aircraft
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IDF dismisses Syria claim it shot down 2 Israeli aircraft

Army says planes safe, but confirms they were targeted by surface-to-air missiles during overnight bombing run in response to errant mortar fire

An F-15I tactical fighter jet releases flares during a graduation ceremony of new Israeli Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim Air Force base near the southern city of Beersheba, December 27, 2012. (Flash90)
An F-15I tactical fighter jet releases flares during a graduation ceremony of new Israeli Air Force pilots at the Hatzerim Air Force base near the southern city of Beersheba, December 27, 2012. (Flash90)

Syrian state television said the Syrian army shot down an Israeli fighter jet and drone Tuesday morning, a claim swiftly denied by the IDF.

The statement from the Syrian army said one aircraft was downed over the skies of the Syrian town of Quneitra, near the Israeli side of the Golan Heights, and the other, a drone, was shot down closer to Damascus.

“Our air defenses blocked the attack and shot down the military aircraft in (the southern province of) Quneitra and a drone west of Sa’sa” in the province of Damascus, said the statement carried by state news agency SANA.

The alleged achievement was highlighted widely in Syrian state media.

The IDF in a statement confirmed it had been shot at, but said aircraft used to target Syrian positions overnight were safe.

“Two surface-to-air missiles were launched from Syria after the mission overnight to target Syrian artillery positions,” an IDF statement said. “At no point was the safety of IDF aircraft compromised.”

Channel 2 news reported on Tuesday evening that the missiles fired by the Syrians were launched well after the raid, as the Israeli planes were on their way back to base.

Earlier Tuesday morning Israel’s army said it struck artillery positions belonging to the Syrian regime from the air in response to mortar fire that struck the Golan Heights Monday.

The apparently errant mortar fire — the fifth such incident in just over a week — was recorded hours after a ceasefire brokered by Russia and the United States took effect in Syria at sundown Monday.

The civil war in Syria has generated a number of spillover incidents over the years. Israel has said it holds the regime of Bashar Assad responsible for all errant fire, regardless of the source. The IDF frequently retaliates against stray missile strikes inside Israeli territory.

Israel has also reportedly carried out bombing runs to keep advanced weapons from being transferred to terror group Hezbollah.

Syria’s army claims the Israeli strikes are being used to help rebel groups, including Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate, fight the regime.

“This blatant attack comes in the framework of the Zionist enemy’s support of the armed terrorist groups in a desperate attempt to raise their morale after their heavy losses in the Quneitra outskirts,” the Syrian army’s Tuesday statement said, apparently referring to fighting in the regime-held town of Hader on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

On Saturday, too, a mortar shell exploded on the Israeli Golan Heights, prompting an Israeli retaliation. A military spokeswoman said the projectile was most likely unintentional spillover from the internal fighting in Syria. A short time later, the Israeli Air Force struck artillery targets belonging to the Syrian army, the army said.

Hours later, a second mortar shell fired from Syria struck the Golan Heights. The shell exploded on the border, causing no casualties or damage.

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