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Israel Says Attacks Syrian Unit That Fired At Its Planes Over Lebanon


A F-35 fighter jet is seen after landing in the Israeli Nevatim Air force base in the Negev desert, near the southern city of Beersheva, December 12, 2016

(Reuters) - The Israeli air force on Monday attacked a Syrian anti-aircraft battery that Israel said had fired a missile at its planes as they were on a reconnaissance mission over neighboring Lebanon.

No Israeli planes were hit in the Syrian launch, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said, adding that the counter-strike took place two hours later and "incapacitated" the anti-aircraft unit located 50 km (30 miles) east of Damascus.

"We know according to our intelligence it was a battery controlled by the Syrian regime and we hold the Syrian regime responsible for the fire," Conricus said.

There was no immediate comment from Syria which, while an old enemy of Israel, has rarely traded blows with it directly since a 1974 ceasefire ended their last conventional war.

Monday's incident was additionally unusual given its publication by Israel, which rarely gives details on its air force activities over Lebanon and Syria to foil suspected arms transfers to Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas.

Such missions in Syria have increased dramatically during the country's civil war, Israeli officials says, adding that all efforts are made to avoid accidental clashes with Russian forces helping Damascus beat back rebels.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was due to begin a visit to Israel later on Monday. Conricus said the Israeli military informed Russia of its Syria strike "in real time or immediately before" it took place, and would brief Shoigu.

Conricus said a Syrian attack on Israeli air force planes over Lebanon was unprecedented. Syrian anti-aircraft missiles were launched at Israeli warplanes over Syria in March. They were unscathed but one of the missiles, on its descent, was intercepted by Israel's Arrow air defense system.

According to Conricus, the Syrian battery struck on Monday had carried out the launch against the Israeli planes in March.

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