Israel has struck 12 Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria, including an air defence system, the country’s military has claimed.
The raids, which mark a dramatic escalation of tension in the region, came a few hours after Israel allegedly shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated the country’s airspace.
The Israeli military called the drone infiltration a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty” – and said Iran was “playing with fire”.
In a tweet, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said it would “act determinately against such severe violations of Israeli sovereignty” and is “ready for various scenarios”.
But a spokesman later said the country was “not looking to escalate the situation”.
He described the air strikes as a “defensive effort triggered by an Iranian act of aggression”.
The Israeli military said two of its pilots had been injured – one seriously – when their F-16 jet involved in one of the raids crashed in northern Israel after facing heavy anti-aircraft fire from Syria.
According to the Israeli military, the unmanned aircraft shot down inside Israeli territory early on Saturday was “on a military mission sent and operated by Iranian military forces”.
Iran denied Israel’s claim that the drone was shot down. “We do not confirm any such news from Israel,” said General Hossein Salami, acting commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
The joint operations room for the Syrian military and its allies said the drone was on a standard mission gathering intelligence on Isis militants and did not violate Israeli airspace.
But IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said there had been a “blatant” violation of his country’s sovereignty and that, in response, Israel destroyed the Iranian site in central Syria that launched the drone.
Subsequent attacks were carried out against four additional Iranian targets and eight Syrian sites.
According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the first of two separate and successive waves of air strikes targeted the central desert area where Syrian troops and their Iranian-backed allies, including Hezbollah, are known to maintain bases.
The organisation cited unconfirmed reports of casualties among Syrian government forces and allied militiamen.
The Observatory, which monitors the war in Syria through a network of activists on the ground, said the second round targeted outposts in the southwestern suburbs of Damascus.
The Israeli military claimed that three aerial defence batteries and four Iranian military sites were among the 12 targets. Anti-aircraft missiles were fired towards Israeli jets, triggering sirens across northern Israel, according to the military.
Syrian state TV quoted a military official who described the raids as a “new aggression”. He also claimed that Syrian air defences hit more than one Israeli plane.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman was meeting with the top brass at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Saturday to discuss a further response.
Israel has previously shot down several drones that tried to infiltrate its territory from Syria. But Saturday’s raids on Iranian sites marks an escalation in the scale of Israeli retaliation.
Agencies contributed to this report
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