Islamic State said to capture body of downed Syrian pilot

Plane shot down by Israel after crossing border said to have crashed in small pocket of land held by terror group in southwest Syria

A picture taken on July 24, 2018 from the Tal Saki hill in the Golan Heights shows several explosions caused by aerial bombardment across the border in Syria. (AFP / JALAA MAREY)
A picture taken on July 24, 2018 from the Tal Saki hill in the Golan Heights shows several explosions caused by aerial bombardment across the border in Syria. (AFP / JALAA MAREY)

An official based in Syria and allied with government forces said Tuesday that Islamic State fighters seized the body of a Syrian pilot whose jet was shot down by Israel.

The pilot was identified as Col. Amran Mara’e. He was killed when his plane was shot down, a Syrian military source told Sputnik, a Russian government-backed news outlet.

The fate of the other pilot remains unknown, said the official, who is with the so-called “Axis of Resistance” that is led by Iran and includes Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and other groups fighting alongside Assad’s forces. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

According to Israeli reports, however, there was only one pilot in the plane.

A non-Syrian source told Reuters the plane crashed in a pocket of land in Syria’s southwest still held by Islamic State rebels.

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The Israeli military said it monitored the advance of the Syrian Sukhoi fighter jet and shot it down with a pair of Patriot missiles after it penetrated Israeli airspace by about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).

Syria’s military, however, claimed the jet was targeted by Israel over Syrian territory as it flew sorties against Islamic State militants.

Syrian forces have been battling rebels and IS fighters at the frontier with Israel for weeks, in a campaign to restore President Bashar Assad’s rule over southwestern Syria.

Smoke rises at the Syrian side of the border, as it seen from the Golan Heights, Israel, on July 24, 2018. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

On Tuesday, government forces reached the border fence where a UN peacekeeping force is deployed at the edge of the Golan Heights. It was the first time the Syrian government had managed to retake the area since 2011, when an uprising swept through Syria against Assad.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967. The UN deployed peacekeepers between the two sides in 1974 as part of a treaty following 1973’s Yom Kippur War.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the breach of Israeli territory a “blatant violation” of the 1974 agreement that established the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria.

View of the trail left in the sky by a Patriot missile that was fired to intercept a Syrian jet entering Israel from Syria, as seen in the Northern Israeli city of Tzfat, on July 24, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

“I have reiterated and made clear that we will not accept any such violation. We will not accept any such penetration of or spillover into our territory, neither on the ground nor from the air,” he said in a statement.

Israel’s military has been on “elevated alert” along the frontier because of activity on the Syrian side of the fence, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. Israel has warned Syria through various channels not to violate the 1974 agreement, he added.

Minutes before the downing of the jet, Syria’s state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV was broadcasting footage from the fence demarcating the UN buffer zone between Syrian and Israeli forces in the Golan Heights. A UN observer post could be seen just on the other side of the fence.

The camera showed an Israeli post 400 meters (440 yards) away.

Israel’s military said the Syrian jet took off from the T-4 air base, near Homs, where Iranian militias are believed to have a presence.

The plane flew toward Israel at “relatively high speed” before breaching the country’s airspace, said Conricus. He said it was unknown if the plane deliberately crossed into Israel.

The plane crashed in the southern part of the Syrian Golan Heights, he said.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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