Israel on Tuesday shot down a Syrian jet that it claims entered its territory from the Golan Heights, further raising tension as Syrian ground forces battling against rebels reached the border with Israel.
The Israeli military said it monitored the advance of the Syrian Sukhoi fighter jet and shot it down with two Patriot surface-to-air missiles after it penetrated 2km into Israeli air space.
The plane apparently crashed inside Syria, with Sky News Arabic reporting it went down in the Yarmouk area.
Syria said the jet was conducting an operation against “terrorist groups” when it was hit by Israeli fire.
“The Israeli enemy targeted one of our warplanes while conducting air raids against these groups in the area of Saida on the outskirts of al-Yarmouk Basin in the Syrian airspace,” Syrian state television reported, quoting a military source.
A Syrian military official told Russian news agency Sputnik that one of the pilots was killed when the aircraft was shot down, while the fate of the other remains unknown. There were no sightings of a parachute ejection.
The source insisted the plane did not infiltrate Israel and was downed over Syrian territory.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the Israeli forces had acted appropriately.
“Our air defence systems identified a Syrian Air Force jet that took off from the T-4 Syrian Air Force base and penetrated Israeli air space. This is a gross violation of the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement with Syria,” he said in a reference to the ceasefire that followed the 1973 Middle East war.
“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 in the air. We insist that the Syrians strictly abide by the Separation of Forces Agreement between us and them.”
The incident came as Syrian forces have reached the border with the Israeli Golan Heights for the first time since 2011, after capturing territory from rebels and Islamic State fighters.
Al-Ikhbariya TV broadcast footage from the fence demarcating the Golan Heights United Nations buffer zone between Syria and Israel.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed the strategic plateau in 1981 in an act condemned by the international community.
Israel and Syria, along with the US and Russia, all appear interested in restoring the situation on the Golan Heights to the terms of the 1974 Disengagement agreement in an effort to defuse tension.
As it became clear in recent months that the recapture of the border area by the Syrian army and its allies was just a matter of time, Israel made it clear that it would not accept the presence of Iranian forces or Iranian-backed militias close its border.
Syria’s main backer, Russia, has reportedly promised Israel that Iranian forces will be kept 100km from the border.