BEIRUT (Dispatches) -- Anti-aircraft fire downed an Israeli warplane returning from a bombing raid in Syria on Saturday in the most serious confrontations yet between the occupying regime and the Arab country.
The F-16, one of at least eight Israeli planes dispatched in response to what the Zionist regime claimed was an Iranian drone’s incursion into its airspace earlier in the day, was hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile and crashed in northern Occupied Palestine.
Both pilots ejected and were injured, one critically. Some media reports said one of the pilots had died while another warplane – an F-15 – had been seriously damaged.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement said the downing of the plane marked the "start of a new strategic phase” that would limit the occupying regime’s ability to enter Syrian airspace.
The Zionist regime was quick to make it clear that it was not seeking wider conflict as PM Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to military headquarters in Tel Aviv and Syria pledged a strong response to any Israeli "terrorist action”.
Russia, whose forces began intervening on behalf of President Bashar Assad in 2015, expressed its concern and urged both sides to exercise restraint and avoid escalation.
Netanyahu said he had spoken by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin who the Zionist leader that there was a need to avoid any steps that would lead to a new confrontation in the region, Interfax news agency reported.
A Western diplomat in the region said: "My impression is that it seems to be contained at this point. I don’t think anybody wants to escalate further.”
A Pentagon spokesman said the United States fully supported the occupying regime in its continued aggression on Syria.
Saturday’s chain of events began at 4:30 a.m. (0230 GMT) when an Israeli Apache helicopter shot down an alleged Iranian drone over the northern town of Beit Shean, the Zionist military said.
Iran dismissed the claim as "ridiculous”, with the Syrian army saying it had launched the drone to hunt down Daesh terrorists when the occupying regime targeted it after intruding into the Arab country’s airspace.
Israeli planes then carried out attacks inside Syria where they are engaged by the country’s air defense.
The F-16 crashed on its return from the mission, coming down in an empty field near Harduf, east of Haifa.
"We heard a big explosion and then sirens. We didn’t know what was happening, we heard helicopters and planes,” said Yosi Sherer, 51, who was staying at a hostel in Beit Shean.
Flights at Tel Aviv’s airport were briefly halted.
Zionist officials said missile remnants were found near the crash site after the occupying regime initially refused to admit the downing only saying a warplane had crashed. "We don’t know yet if it’s an SA-5 or SA-17, but it’s a Syrian anti-aircraft missile,” a Zionist military official said.
David Ivry, a former Zionist air force chief, told Reuters he believed it was the first time an Israeli F-16 was brought down since the occupying regime began using the jets in the 1980s.
Hezbollah said in a statement: "Today’s developments mean the old equations have categorically ended.”
Iran’s military chief warned the occupying regime of Israel last October against breaching Syrian airspace and territory.
Netanyahu, visiting the Golan on Tuesday, peered across the border into Syria and in public remarks issued new threats against Syria and its allies in the fight on foreign-backed terrorists.
A Syrian official said after the downing of the F-16 that a "message” had been sent to Israel. But he added: "I do not believe matters will develop to a regional war.”
Tensions also have spiked across the frontier between Israel and Lebanon over Zionist plans for a wall on the Lebanese border, and Beirut’s plans to exploit an offshore energy block which the occupying regime wants to dominate.