Israel shoots down Syrian jet as Assad forces reach Golan Heights frontier

Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet it said had breached its airspace on Tuesday as Syrian forces reached the Golan Heights frontier for the first time in seven years.

The Israeli military said it monitored the advance of the Syrian Sukhoi fighter jet and shot it down with a pair of Patriot missiles after it penetrated Israeli airspace by about two kilometres.

Syrian state media, however, said, that a Syrian 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 official news agency SANA quoted a military source as saying.

Syrian forces have been battling rebels and militants with Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) at the frontier with Israel in recent weeks.

Tuesday marked the first time government forces reached the border fence with the UN's Disengagement Observer Force at the edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Increase in fighting

It was the first time Israel shot down a Syrian jet in four years.

Israel's military said there had been an increase in internal fighting in Syria since the morning hours, including intensified activity by the Syrian Air Force.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the breach of Israeli territory a "gross violation" of a 1974 agreement that established the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria.

"I have reiterated and made clear that we will not accept any such violation. We will not accept any such penetration of or spillover into our territory, neither on the ground nor from the air," he said in a statement.

Israel's military has been on "elevated alert" along the frontier because of activity on the Syrian side of the fence, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus. Israel has warned Syria through various channels not to violate the 1974 agreement, he added.

Minutes before the plane was shot down, Syria's state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV was broadcasting footage from the fence demarcating the UN buffer zone between Syrian and Israeli forces inside the Golan Heights. A UN observer post could be seen just on the other side of the fence.

Israeli children look out over the Israeli-Syrian border following an explosion on the Syrian side on Monday. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Heightened tensions between Israeli and Syria have prompted intercession by Moscow, which sent its foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and top general on Monday for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli officials said Netanyahu rebuffed as insufficient a Russian offer to keep Iranian forces 100 kilometres from the Golan lines.

In February, an Israeli F-16 jet was brought down by Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

That warplane crashed in northern Israel while returning from a bombing raid on what Israel said was an Iranian military installation in Syria. Both pilots ejected and were injured, one critically. 

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967. The UN deployed a peacekeeping force between the two sides in 1974.

It is the first time government forces have taken up positions along the frontier since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad swept through the country in 2011. ISIS later seized territory from rebels along the frontier region.

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