Israel said it shot down a Syrian warplane that crossed into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Tuesday, but Damascus said the jet was fired on as it took part in operations against rebels on Syrian territory.
The incident added new fuel to weeks of tensions over the Golan, a strategic plateau between the two old enemies and where Israel has been on high alert as Syrian government forces, supported by Russia, close in to regain rebel-held ground.
For the second time in as many days, Israeli sirens sounded on the Golan and witnesses saw the contrails of two missiles flying skyward. The military said it fired Patriot interceptor missiles at a Syrian Sukhoi jet that crossed 2 km (1 mile) into Israeli-controlled airspace, after first trying to warn it off, reports the Guardian.
“It was shot down and it crashed…most likely in the southern part of the Syrian Golan Heights,” Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.
“We do not have any information so far about the pilots. I do not know of any reports of parachutes being spotted, and we do not know if any pilots have been retrieved.”
Syrian state media said, however, 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.
An Israeli military statement appeared to acknowledge that its mission was related to the civil war next door.
“Since morning hours, there has been an increase in the internal fighting in Syria, including an increase in the activity of the Syrian Air Force,” the statement said.
It said Israel would “continue to operate against” any breach of a 1974 U.N. armistice deal that established buffer zones on the Golan.
Israel worries that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might try to defy the demilitarisation regime or allow his Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah reinforcements to deploy near the Golan.
The raised Israeli-Syrian tensions 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 km (62 miles) from the Golan lines.
Witnesses on the southern edge of the Israeli-occupied Golan saw numerous warplanes and helicopters in the skies over Syrian territory.
The aircraft were dropping bombs, apparently as part of a Russian-backed Syrian government push into areas previously held by anti-government forces.
Anti-aircraft fire was also targeting the aircraft.
With tensions high in the Middle East, Israel is mulling relaxing gun rules that will allow up to 40,000 more people to get weapons, the local media reports. Gun-lobbying politicians hope the measure will help ordinary citizens to neutralize “terrorists.”
The Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan proposed to allow any Israeli citizen who passed rifle training in the IDF to apply for a gun license, Tel-Aviv-based daily Haartez reported. According to the paper, the required level of training for the license will be equivalent to the one of an IDF combat infantry soldier.
If introduced, the measure will be a win for Israel’s gun lobby that had been fighting to lower the bar for gun ownership in order to help regular citizens defend themselves during terror attacks.
“Sending the citizens of Israel to protect themselves with pizza trays, selfie sticks, guitars and umbrellas is a crime of the state against its citizens,” politician Amir Ohana, who leads the gun lobby caucus in the nation’s parliament told Haaretz.
“A law abiding citizen, who has the basic skill required, is entitled to be able to defend himself and his surroundings.”
Ohana, who belongs to the ruling Likud party, suggested that an armed civilian “is more of a solution than a threat”, as he “doubles as assistance for the security forces.” He pointed out that “in 11 attacks in just the Jerusalem area” civilians “neutralized the threat.”
Relaxing the gun laws was previously proposed in 2016 after several cases of fed-up civilians confronting Islamic jihadists hell-bent on killing Jews.
During a stabbing spree in Jaffa that year, which left a US tourist dead and 10 people wounded, a man stunned the Palestinian attacker by hitting him in the head with an acoustic guitar. The same day a different assailant targeted a shop in Petah Tikva, but one of the victims managed to stab the attacker with his own knife, killing him.
Currently citizens need to have a specified reason to obtain guns, such as living in the West Bank or working in a hazardous environment.
In recent years, the authorities have been trying to promote gun ownership among the Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including providing firearms training to children. Such measures were criticized by pro-Palestine groups who said they encourage violence against the Palestinian population.
“There has been a worrying trend to use firearms to kill Palestinians who have attacked Israelis or are suspected of such attacks,” Israeli rights watchdog B’Tselem wrote in 2015 in a joint statement with the local branch of Amnesty International and few other NGOs. It added that such incidents are “raising concern that the chosen response to such persons is the harshest possible, with lethal or – at the very least – unnecessary consequences.”
In the absence of law enforcement, violence by Palestinians against Israeli settlers has become a “part of daily life” in the West Bank.
Israel is experiencing heightened tensions at the Gaza Strip border where barbaric Palestinians have been staging massive riots against Israel reclaiming their land since late March. The protests led to many clashes with the IDF, in which over 100 Palestinians were killed.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
July 24th, 2018