Putin urges Netanyahu to avoid risky escalation following Syria raids

Sputnik  Timur Abdullaev      
                                               Joost Hiltermann

David Ivry, a former Israeli Air Force chief, told Reuters he believed it was the first time an Israeli F-16 was brought down since Israel began using the jets in the 1980s.

The remains of an Israeli F-16 that crashed in northern Israel on February 10.

He said from the 348 RFMF soldiers on the ground, around 80 plus soldiers were in Syria and the rest were deployed on the Israeli side.

Israel had earlier accused Iran of flying a drone into Israeli airspace from Syria - sparking the entire exchange - a claim which Iran denied. "My feeling is that they don't have an interest in escalation".

The U.S. was "deeply" concerned about Saturday's escalation of violence over Israel's border and "strongly" supported Israel's sovereign right to defend itself, the State Department said.

It marked the first time Israel publicly acknowledged attacking what it identified as Iranian targets in Syria since the war began.

Israel has repeatedly warned in recent weeks against the presence of Iranian forces in neighbouring Syria.

An official in the pro-Assad alliance said after the downing of the F-16 that a "message" had been sent to Israel. Across the border the event was taken as a victory, with dozens of Lebanese celebrating and waving Hezbollah's flag.

Hezbollah said on Saturday the "brave confrontation of the aggressing Israeli planes", including downing an F-16, ushers in a "new strategic phase" that puts an end to the violation of Syrian airspace and territories.

Hezbollah said in a statement: "Today's developments mean the old equations have categorically ended".

Guterres is "following closely the alarming military escalation throughout Syria and the unsafe spillover across its borders", United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement. "In the past, the Israelis carried out attacks inside Syria, but they would not mention anything about the target or even acknowledge attacks".

Netanyahu has made a number of visits to Russian Federation, the dominant player in Syria, to lay out Israel's red lines and ask President Vladimir Putin to rein in Iran.

"It is absolutely unacceptable to create threats to the lives and security of Russian servicemen who are in Syria at the invitation of its legitimate government to assist in the fight against terrorists", Russia's foreign ministry said. This past week, USA warplanes bombed pro-government forces after they allegedly advanced on US -backed forces in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the situation in Syria in a telephone call on Saturday after heavy Israeli air strikes in the country, Interfax news agency cited the Kremlin as saying. Tzipi Livni of the opposition Zionist Union faction said the government must do more to build global backing for Israeli attacks in Syria.

But Israel has refrained from striking Iranian sites directly.

Iran's expanding clout during the Syrian civil war, including deployments of Iran-backed forces near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, has raised alarm in Israel, which has said it would act against any threat from its regional arch-enemy Tehran. It said the drones collect information on militant groups, including Islamic State, for the Syrian army, and said the drone was on a routine mission Saturday morning targeting Islamic State remnants.

In a statement quoted by the Israel Broadcasting Corporation, Brigadier General Tomer Bar, a senior Israel Air Force officer, said the Israeli aircraft was downed by a surface-to-air missile but he did not specify.

"This is not the first time that we have warned you of Iran's risky actions that undermine the situation in our region".

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