Israel said it shot down a Syrian jet fighter with surface-to-air missiles Tuesday after it entered its airspace — but Damascus said the plane was attacked while taking part in strikes against rebels inside Syria.
The Israeli military said it had been monitoring the Russian-made Sukhoi and brought it down with two Patriot missiles after it flew about a mile over the Golan Heights.
The incident marked the first time Israel shot down a Syrian aircraft in four years.
Syrian state media said the warplane had been “targeted” by Israel and hit while conducting raids in Syrian airspace.
“The Israeli enemy confirms its support for the armed terrorist groups and targets one of our warplanes, which was striking their groups in the area of Saida on the edge of the Yarmouk Basin in Syrian airspace,” the SANA news agency quoted a military source as saying.
The jet crashed on the Syrian-held side of the Golan Heights, according to the Israel Defense Forces, which appeared to acknowledge that its mission was related to the civil war in Syria.
“We do not have any information so far about the pilots. I do not know of any reports of parachutes being spotted, and we do not know if any pilots have been retrieved,” IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.
He confirmed that the plane was Syrian, not Russian.
“The only thing we know about the aircraft is that it crashed, most likely in the southern part of the Syrian Golan Heights,” he said.
The IDF said in a statement: “Since morning hours, there has been an increase in the internal fighting in Syria, including an increase in the activity of the Syrian Air Force.”
It said Israel would “continue to operate against” any breach of a 1974 UN armistice deal that established buffer zones in the Golan Heights.
The IDF said the Sukhoi took off from the T4 airbase near Hama, which was the target of at least two Israeli airstrikes in the past, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Iranian forces used the base, which housed a command center for Iran’s drone operations inside Syria.
Israeli forces have been on high alert across the strategic territory as Syrian government forces close in with Russian support to regain rebel-held ground.
Tuesday marked the first time government forces reached the border fence with the UN’s Disengagement Observer Force at the edge of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Shortly before the reported downing, Syria’s state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV was broadcasting images from the fence demarcating the UN buffer zone between Syrian and Israeli forces.
It is the first time government forces have taken up positions along the frontier since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad swept through the country in 2011.
ISIS militants later seized territory from rebels along the border territory.
This is the second time the Israeli air force has shot down a Russian-made Syrian jet since 1985. The other time was in 2014, when it used a Patriot missile to down a Sukhoi-24 that had flown about 800 meters into Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights.
The move to intercept that aircraft was made within 80 seconds, and by the time the missile hit the jet, it was already on its way back to Syrian airspace, according to Haaretz.
The two pilots ejected and landed in Syrian territory.