Israel has launched what it described as a large-scale air raid in Syria after one of its F-16 fighters crashed while under Syrian anti-aircraft fire.
Twelve sites, including four “Iranian targets” near the Syrian capital, Damascus, were destroyed in the raid, according to an Israeli military spokesman, Jonathan Conricus. It was not immediately clear whether there were any casualties.
The Israeli F-16 was shot at as it returned on Saturday morning from a raid to destroy Iranian facilities accused of launching a drone into Israel.
Both pilots managed to eject and landed in Israel. One was badly injured. It was not clear if the jet was hit or if the pilots abandoned the plane.
Syrian state news claimed its air defences had struck at least two jets. The Israeli military denied more than one plane had been hit.
Saturday’s violence was one of the most severe incidents involving Israel, Iran and Syria during Syria’s seven-year-old civil war. It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in the conflict.
The jet was part of a mission deep into Syrian territory to destroy what Conricus said was an Iranian drone control facility near the desert city of Palmyra. The drone that entered Israeli airspace was shot down and retrieved, he said.
“The Syrians and Iranians, from our point of view, are playing with fire,” Conricus said. “The event is still ongoing; it is by no means behind us.”
Iran condemned Israel for intercepting one of its drones. “Reports of downing an Iranian drone flying over Israel and also Iran’s involvement in attacking an Israeli jet are so ridiculous,” state TV quoted Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying. He said Iran provided only “military advice” to Syria.
Syrian state media said air defences opened fire on the jets in response to an Israeli act of aggression against a military base on Saturday.
“The Israeli enemy entity at dawn today conducted a new aggression against one of the military bases in the central region. Our air defences confronted it and hit more than one plane,” the unidentified military source said.
Conricus said Iran was “responsible for this severe violation of Israeli sovereignty”.
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