El Al plane diverted during air strike on Syria to avoid anti-aircraft fire

Cyprus air traffic control tells Dreamliner carrying cargo from China to change course as strikes attributed to Israel hit facilities of Iran-backed militias, killing at least 6

A diverted El Al plane over Cyprus on December 25, 2020. (Screen capture/Twitter)
A diverted El Al plane over Cyprus on December 25, 2020. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Cypriot air traffic control reached out to an El Al plane en route to Tel Aviv and helped it divert from the Syrian and Lebanese coasts as airstrikes attributed to Israel against Iran-backed militias in the area were taking place early Friday morning.

The diversion of El Al flight LY66 carrying cargo from Shanghai was spotted by Ynet reporter and flight tracker Itay Blumenthal, who posted footage of the Dreamliner detouring on its way to Tel Aviv.

The plane landed safely without further incident at Ben Gurion Airport at 1:40 a.m. as Syrian state media said Israel carried out airstrikes in the central province of Hama moments earlier.

Syria’s official news agency SANA said the attack occurred near the town of Masyaf and that the missiles were fired from Lebanese territory.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-Syrian opposition organization, claimed the strikes hit positions of Iran-backed militias and killed at least six foreign paramilitaries. The claim could not be verified.

It said the strikes targeted the Iran-backed groups’ arms depots and facilities for manufacturing short-range missiles.

The Associated Press said Israeli jets flew very low over parts of Lebanon before the strikes, including over Beirut, frightening some of the city’s residents.

The Syrian Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying Israel “launched an aggression by directing a barrage of rockets” from the north of the Lebanese city of Tripoli toward the Masyaf area.

It said Syrian air defenses “confronted the enemy missiles and intercepted most of them.” Syrian war analysts generally dismiss the military’s regular claims of interceptions as false, empty boasts.

Syrian state TV aired footage purporting to show air defenses responding to the Israeli attack.

There was no comment from the Israel Defense Forces, which generally maintains a policy of ambiguity regarding its activities against Iran and its proxies in Syria, refusing to publicly acknowledge its actions.

Masyaf is a significant military area for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime that includes a military academy and a scientific research center. The general area around Masyaf, which is also believed to have a major Iranian presence, has reportedly been targeted by Israel many times in the past.

The last reported Israeli strikes in Syria took place a month ago in the southern part of the country, near Israel’s border with Syria on the Golan Heights, and reportedly targeted sites associated with Iran and its proxies.

The IDF has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011 against moves by Iran to establish a permanent military presence in the country and efforts to transport advanced, game-changing weapons to terrorist groups in the region, principally Hezbollah.

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