(MENAFN- Gulf Times) *Syria downs Israeli F-16 jet
The United States backed Israel for its strikes inside Syria yesterday, blaming Iran for escalating violence in the war-wracked country.
Israel's raids came after it intercepted what it said was an Iranian drone entering its airspace from Syria, calling it an "attack".
"The United States is deeply concerned about today's escalation of violence over Israel's border and strongly supports Israel's sovereign right to defend itself," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
Following the most serious confrontation between Israel and Iran since Syria's civil war began in 2011, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to prevent Tehran from establishing a threatening military presence in the Arab state.
The confrontation was the first time Israel has publicly acknowledged targeting what it identified as Iranian positions in Syria since the conflict started.
Iran denounced Israeli "lies" and said Syria had the right to self-defence in response to the strikes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the situation in Syria in a telephone call, Interfax news agency cited the Kremlin as saying.
"They discussed the situation around the actions of the Israeli air force, which carried out missile strikes on targets in Syria," Interfax quoted the Kremlin as saying.
Putin told Netanyahu there was a need to avoid any steps that would lead to a new confrontation in the region.
Anti-aircraft fire downed an Israeli warplane returning from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria earlier yesterday in the most serious confrontations yet between Israel and Iranian-backed forces based across the border.
Syria's air defence systems downed an Israeli F-16 jet after Israel's air force launched strikes inside the neighbouring country, in a serious escalation of tensions.
The incident, the first time in the multi-sided Syrian civil war that
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces have downed an Israeli jet, could alter military calculations for Israel, where it until now had a relatively free hand to act.
Russia, a key player in the conflict and one with a large say over Syrian airspace, also called for Syria's sovereignty to be respected.
"We consider it necessary to respect absolutely Syria's and the region's other countries' sovereignty and territorial integrity," Russia's TASS news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying.
Israel was reaching out to Russia - a key backer of al-Assad alongside Iran, and the key airborne force on the side of the government - as well as the United States in an effort to prevent further escalation. Page 11
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that he had spoken by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the incident.
During the call, Netanyahu had also reassured Putin that military co-ordination between their countries would continue.
An Israeli plane had not been brought down in such a manner since 1982, said Tomer Bar, an Israeli air force commander, according to local media. He was referring to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that
Bar also expressed satisfaction that, for the first time, Israel had captured an Iranian drone. The Israeli army released images on Twitter yesterday night showing what it said was the Iranian drone.
"The Syrians and the Iranians are playing with fire," Israeli military spokesman Ronen Manelis said on the army's Twitter feed.
"We are ready to exact a very heavy price towards anyone who acts against us, but our intentions are not towards an escalation," Manelis said.
Iran-backed Hezbollah, the Lebanese group also fighting in Syria, said the downing of the plane "heralds the beginning of a new strategic phase that puts a limit to violation of Syrian airspace and lands."
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