Israel Shoots Down Syrian Drone Over Golan Heights

Interception comes after Syria's official news agency reported that Israel struck a military compound near Damascus

FILE PHOTO: The Israeli army launches a Patriot missile in the Negev desert, February 4, 2003.
FILE PHOTO: The Israeli army launches a Patriot missile in the Negev desert, February 4, 2003. REUTERS

An Israeli Patriot missile intercepted a Syrian unmanned aircraft that entered Israeli airspace over the Golan Heights on Thursday evening, the Israel Defense Forces said, following reports of an attack in Damascus attributed by Syria to Israel.

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Israeli media said residents in the northern town of Safed reported seeing two missiles being launched and of explosions occurring afterward.

The Patriot is a surface-to-air missile system and is designed, among other things, to intercept drones.

The incident comes after Syria's official news agency reported that Israel struck a military compound outside Damascus International Airport.

>> The Attack in Damascus: Israel's Policy of Ambiguity Is Nearing an End >>

Video carried on Lebanese TV and shared on social media sites showed the pre-dawn airstrikes caused a fire around the airport east of Damascus, suggesting fuel sources or weapons containing explosives were hit.

An intelligence source in the region told Reuters that an Israeli attack hit an arms supply hub operated by Hezbollah near Damascus airport, where regular supplies of weapons from Tehran are sent by commercial and military cargo planes.

Four cargo planes originating from Tehran landed in Damascus hours before the strike, according to Flightradar24.com.

Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz told Army Radio on Thursday morning that the attack in Syria was "entirely consistent with our policy to prevent the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah." Katz however did not confirm Israel was behind it.

In March, Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime fired a number of missiles toward Israeli jets after the Israel Air Force struck targets in Syria. It was the most serious clash between the two countries since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war six years ago and the first time Israel took responsibility for an attack in Syria. One of the anti-air projectiles fired by the Syrian army was intercepted by Israel's "Arrow" missile defense system north of Jerusalem. The Israeli army said the rockets were not among Syria's most advanced.

The March launch of anti-aircraft missiles showed growing confidence on the part of the Syrian regime, a senior Israeli officer said recently, due to "support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah." 

The Israeli air force shot down several unmanned aircraft deployed by Hamas and Hezbollah in recent years. In some instances, the air forces used jets for that purpose and in others Patriot missiles, which were originally designed to target airplanes.

In 2016, a drone entered Israeli airspace from Syria, reaching several kilometers into Israel. The drone, most likely Russian, safely returned to Syria after two Patriot missiles and a warplane failed to intercept it. 

Reuters contributed to this report.