JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel downed a Syrian warplane over the Golan Heights on Tuesday in the first such incident in three decades and warned it would respond “forcefully” if its security is threatened.
It was the first time Israel had shot down a piloted Syrian plane since 1985 and drew a sharp response from Damascus.
Israel said the Syrian fighter jet had crossed the UN-patrolled ceasefire line on the Golan which it regards as its international border.
Pictures taken by AFP showed smoke rising from the Syrian village of Jubata al-Khashab which had been bombed by the warplane just moments before it was shot down by a Patriot surface-to-air missile fired by Israel.
The burning wreckage, also caught on camera, plunged down on the Syrian side of the ceasefire line.
A picture taken from the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights shows smoke billowing near the Syrian village of Jubata al-Khashab following an explosion during fighting between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and rebel fighters on September 23 – AFP
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the army had brought down “a Syrian fighter plane which approached Israel’s sovereign territory on the Golan in a threatening manner, and even crossed the frontier”.
Israel seized 1,200 square kilometres of the strategic plateau from Syria during the Six-Day War of 1967, then annexed it in 1981 in a move never recognised by the international community.
A senior military official quoted by Israeli public radio said the Russian-made Sukhoi Su-24 had penetrated some 400 metres into Israeli air space before being shot down.
The downing came just three weeks after Israel shot down a drone over the Golan as heavy fighting raged on the Syrian-controlled side of the plateau, most of which has been seized by rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
The Assad regime has been hitting back with frequent air strikes in a bid to retake control. Some have been close to Israeli positions.
Damascus said the downing of its fighter jet showed Israel’s support for the rebels on the Golan, who include al-Qaeda loyalists who held 45 UN peacekeepers hostage for two weeks before releasing them earlier this month.
It described it as a “flagrant violation” of a UN Security Council resolution passed earlier this year calling for international action against extremist groups.
But Yaalon warned that Israel would not tolerate any threats to its security and would respond “forcefully”.
“We will not allow anyone, whether it is a state actor or a terror organisation, to threaten our security and breach our sovereignty,” he said.