Israel has shot down a Syrian fighter jet that crossed into Israeli airspace, the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said.
“Two Patriot missiles were launched at a Syrian Sukhoi fighter jet that infiltrated about 1 mile into Israeli airspace. The IDF monitored the fighter jet, which was then intercepted by the Patriot missiles,” the IDF spokesperson tweeted on Tuesday, July 24.
“Since this morning, there has been an increase in the internal fighting in Syria and the Syrian Air Force’s activity,” the spokesperson added.
The plane fell in the Golan Heights, the Israeli Air Force said.
It is unknown if the pilots were taken to an Israeli hospital or were still alive, Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, the IDF’s international spokesperson, told The Defense Post.
Reports have said at least one pilot, identified as a Syrian Air Force colonel, was killed.
Avichay Adraee, Arabic-language spokesperson for the IDF, said the plane was either a Russian-made Su-22 or Su-24 and had taken off from the T4 airbase in Homs.
It is unknown if the pilot deliberately crossed into Israel, but the plane was traveling at a high rate of speed before breaching the country’s airspace, the Associated Press reported Conricus as saying.
“We issued warnings and messages through different channels, in various languages, numerous times over the day to avoid any misunderstandings or any violations of Israeli airspace,” Conricus said in a later statement.
Syria’s Ministry of Defense said that the plane was “targeted,” and had been operating near Sayda on the outskirts of the Yarmouk Basin, an area of Daraa governorate that borders Israel and Jordan and is held by Islamic State.
Earlier, the IDF said sirens sounded in the Golan and Emek HaYarden regional councils and the city of Katzrin.
Syrian state news agency SANA reported on Monday that government forces were advancing on the Yarmouk Basin.
It is the second time a Syrian fighter jet has been downed by Israel since 1985. Patriot was used in 2014 to shoot down a Syrian Air Force Su-24, 800 meters west of the buffer line. That jet was headed back to Syrian airspace when it was intercepted, and the pilots ejected safely in Syria.
The Syrian Air Force operates both Su-22 and Su-24 aircraft. The Soviet Union sold Syria at least 85 Su-22M (NATO reporting name Fitter) jets beginning in the late 1970s, and the Assad government’s stock of 16 Su-24MK (Fencer) aircraft was bolstered by new deliveries from Russia in 2016, but it is unknown how many of either it has left after more than seven years of civil war.
Fighting in southwest Syria
Israel has fired at a number of Syrian military targets in recent days as fighting between government and rebel forces intensifies in southwest Syria.
On Monday, the IDF fired the David’s Sling missile defense system for the first time to take down two surface-to-surface missiles fired from Syria. The army later said the system identified two SS-21 missiles that were likely to land in Israel.
On July 11, the IDF said it fired a Patriot missile at and intercepted a drone flown from Syrian territory toward the Golan Heights. Days earlier, the IDF fired on a Syrian military post after a shell launched during fighting between the regime and rebels landed in the buffer zone between Syria and Israel.
Established at the of end the Yom Kippur War in 1974, the 80-km (50-mile) long buffer zone separates the Israel-occupied Golan Heights from the rest of the Syria and is secured by a United Nations observation force.
This story was updated throughout the day on July 24, 2018 with new information.