UPDATE — 7/27, 1:53 p.m. EDT: Syrian government forces have regained control of Quneitra and Daraa provinces in the country’s southwest, bordering Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan, following years of armed rebel resistance which included ISIS fighters.
On Friday, citizens of Quneitra along with government officials celebrated the victory as the region had been occupied by outside forces since 2014. The Syrian Army began its offensive to liberate both areas in mid-June.
Amid increasing tension along the Israeli-Syrian border, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) shot down a Syrian fighter aircraft which strayed into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Tuesday.
According to reports, a Russian-made, Syrian Sukhoi-22 based at its T4 airfield in Homs, breached Israeli airspace in the occupied Golan Heights and was destroyed by two IDF Partriot missiles. The pilot was killed.
The incident comes as Israel has increasingly sounded alarms over fighting in neighboring Syria growing closer to the Israeli border.
Commenting on the matter, IDF spokesman, Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis, said Israel tracked the Syrian jet, which was travelling at a “high speed,” and fired two Patriot surface-to-air missiles. The crippled aircraft managed to return to Syrian territory and crashed in the Syrian-held Golan Heights.
“We are prepared for any developments. (The IDF) will not tolerate violations of the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement between Israel and Syria,” Manelis said in a statement released by the IDF.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said IDF “took the appropriate action.”
Although Syria recognized the loss of the aircraft, the Syrian military dismissed Israel’s claim the fighter penetrated the Israeli-held Golan Heights. Damascus said the warplane was engaged in a mission targeting ISIS forces in the Yarmouk Basin in southern Syria.
Syrian State media later broadcast the Israel action was supporting terrorism.
The downing of the Syrian plane Tuesday was the first Syrian aircraft lost to Israeli anti-aircraft since 2014, when the IDF shot down a Demascus plane when it crossed into Israeli airspace and comes at a moment in which fighting in the seven-year-old Syrian civil war has continued to draw closer to the Israeli border.
A region previously under the entire control of Syria, the Golan Heights was seized by Israel at the conclusion of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Following negotiations, Israel returned part of the enclave to Syria, but parts of the territory were declared demilitarized.
Under the terms of the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement between the bordering nations, a U.N. Disengagement and Observer mission oversees the zone and investigates breaches to the ceasefire.
[BBC] [Jerusalem Post] [Times of Israel] [AP via Fox News] [Photo courtesy Al Masdar News]