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IDF says F-16 fighter jet likely downed by shrapnel

An Israeli fighter jet crashes in northern Israel on February 10, 2018 after coming fire from Syrian air defences in one of the biggest confrontations between Israel and arch foe Iran in years
Jack GUEZ (AFP)
The escalation erupted early Saturday when an Iranian drone violated Israeli airspace and was shot down.

Following the recent and most severe spate of conflict between Israel and Syria in almost forty years, the Israel Defense Forces concluded that the F-16 fighter jet that came under fire by Syrian forces was downed by shrapnel.

It was initially assessed by the IDF that the F-16 was downed by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles, but a spokesperson indicated that the crash could have been caused by shrapnel rather than a direct hit.

“Even if it was just hit by fragments, that’s still because of the missile,” the army spokesperson said early on Sunday.

The Israeli F-16 pilot flying the plane was seriously hurt when his fighter jet was downed on Saturday. He was taken to Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center for an emergency surgery, where he regained consciousness on Sunday and was taken off a respirator.

At the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about his call with the pilot, saying he was "pleased to hear that there has been an improvement in the condition of the pilot."

"We salute our pilots, soldiers and commanders, especially the Chief-of-Staff [Eizenkot]," Netanyahu said. "They are guarding the State of Israel and we are proud of them."

The escalation erupted early Saturday morning when an Iranian drone violated Israeli airspace and was shot down. In response, the IDF unleashed several airstrikes within Syria, including the vehicle where the drone originated. The air base was said to be bristling with Iranian personnel and weapons and several are reported to have been killed.

Amid the operation, the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad responded to the airstrikes with a firestorm of anti-aircraft missiles which is the likely source of the jet’s crash in Israel’s Jezreel Valley. The pilot and the other passenger ejected, one was seriously injured.

It 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-defense in response to the strikes.

Israel has repeatedly warned allies that it will not tolerate what it says are Iran's attempts at establishing a deep-rooted military infrastructure in Syria.

A number of strikes on targets in Syria have been attributed to Israel. Though Israel rarely confirms such raids, it has admitted to carrying out strikes against convoys of weapons intended for Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Russia's foreign ministry urged "restraint" by all parties, adding it was "unacceptable to create threats to the lives and security of Russian soldiers" in Syria.

Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus warned that Syria and Iran were "playing with fire", but stressed that his country was not seeking an escalation.

"This is the most blatant and severe Iranian violation of Israeli sovereignty" in recent years, Conricus told journalists.

- '12 targets attacked' -

Israel said its reprisals were "large-scale" raids on Syrian air defense systems and Iranian targets.

"Twelve targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four Iranian targets that are part of Iran's military establishment in Syria were attacked," a military statement said.

The two crew from the crashed F16 were alive after ejecting, although one was severely wounded, the military said.

They landed inside Israel and were taken to hospital.

Israel said the confrontation began with the drone entering its airspace before being intercepted by a helicopter.

Conricus said it was intercepted well inside Israel north of the city of Beit Shean, near the Jordan border.

He did not say whether the drone was armed, but alleged it "was on a military mission sent by Iranian military forces" from an "Iranian base" in the Palmyra area.

Eight Israeli aircraft then "targeted the Iranian control systems in Syria that sent the UAV" and confirmed hits, Conricus said.

He said the aircraft met "massive Syrian anti-air fire", and the F16 later came down in northern Israel's Jezreel valley.

Damascus said its air defenses repelled two Israeli raids on its military bases in central Syria, hitting more than one warplane during the first.

Read more:

As it happened: Israel, Iran and Syria come to blows in dramatic day of conflict

Hezbollah hails 'new strategic era' sparked by downing of Israeli jet

UN chief calls for immediate de-escalation in Syria after Israeli airstrikes

(Staff with AFP)

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