Two Syrian pilots who had ejected from their plane after it was shot down by the IDF early Tuesday while flying over the Israeli Golan Heights were said to be dead Tuesday night, after initial reports indicated they had landed safely in Syrian territory.
The IDF said early Tuesday that the plane had infiltrated Israeli airspace when it was shot down with a Patriot missile.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, one of the pilots was injured in the strike on his plane and died after parachuting to the ground. It did not mention the fate of the second pilot.
“Al Qunaytera Province: A military pilot died of wounds due to hitting his aircraft by the Israeli forces on the buffer strip between the liberated and occupied Syrian Golan,” the activist group posted.
However, a separate unconfirmed report, tweeted by an Israeli Foreign Ministry official citing a Syrian activist, indicated that the pilots had successfully returned to Syrian territory, only to be executed by Syrian military intelligence.
A defense official said the Syrian jet penetrated 800 meters (2,600 feet) into Israeli air space and tried to return to Syria after the Patriot missile was fired. The crew managed to abandon the plane in time and landed in Syrian territory, the Israeli official said.
— Paul Hirschson (@paulhirschson) September 23, 2014
Syria confirmed the plane was hit and downed near Quneitra, near the Israel-Syria border, “in the framework of (Israel’s) support for the terrorist (Islamic State) and the Nusra Front,” Reuters reported.
It was the first such incident since the war with Lebanon in 1982, the official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Other military officials said it was the first such incident since 1985.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday in response to the incident that the Syrian plane approached Israeli territory in a “threatening manner” and crossed the border.
Other officials said the plane had not “shaved the border” in a manner that might have indicated a slightly flawed flight path, but rather had crossed directly into Israel, which meant it could have been over Tiberias inside a minute, and thus the IDF followed routine procedures in bringing it down.
The army shot down an unmanned Syrian aircraft August 31 as it flew near Quneitra, the Syrian town that has been the stage for fighting between rebels and regime forces for the past month.
Shells from Syria have landed sporadically on the Israeli side of the Golan Heights for the past several weeks as Syrian regime forces and rebel factions battle for the Quneitra crossing, with the rebels reportedly gaining control of almost the entire Syrian border with Israel.
Meanwhile, UN peacekeepers have largely evacuated their Syrian position, moving most of their equipment and personnel from Camp Faouar, their main headquarters in Syria, to Israel.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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