Israeli Drone (illustrative).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Israel Air Force shot down a drone that entered Israeli airspace from Syria on Sunday with a surface-to-air Patriot missile, the IDF Spokesman announced. It said the drone had been launched from the Quneitra region in Syria, adjacent to the Israeli border.
“The IDF will not tolerate a breach of the State of Israel’s sovereignty,” the army said.
Army sources said the drone likely belonged to the military of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and strayed into Israeli airspace by accident.
Commenting on the interception of the drone, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Israeli air defense personnel have “once again proven their high alertness and professionalism.”
He added that Israel will not allow “any breach of our sovereignty or attempt to harm our civilians and soldiers in the North, whether deliberate or accidental. Recent weeks have proven that our patience for attempts to harm us is short, and if someone attempts to test us, we will know how to respond aggressively.”
Meanwhile, the head of the Fijian Army said on Sunday negotiations for the release of 44 soldiers seized by the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights were being pursued, but he worried there had been no word on where his men are being held. The UN peacekeepers from Fiji were detained by Islamist terrorists on Thursday.
The United Nations and Manila said on Sunday all of more than 70 Philippine troops trapped by the terrorists in a different area of the frontier are now safe, but it is still not known where the Fijians are being held.
“We still at this stage cannot confirm the exact location of our troops. We are continuing negotiations at all levels,” Fijian army commander Brig.-Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga told a media conference in Fiji on Sunday.
He said they had been assured that the men were being treated well and had come to no harm, he said.
“However, we are still very concerned that we cannot confirm at this stage their exact location, whether they are still in Syria or whether they have been moved to neighboring countries,” Tikoitoga said.
The Fijian and Philippine troops are serving with the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights.
Syria and Israel technically remain at war, and UNDOF monitors the area of separation, a narrow strip of land running about 70 km. from Mount Hermon on the Lebanese border to the Yarmuk River frontier with Jordan.
The United Nations said earlier on Sunday that 40 Philippine troops had been moved to safety during a cease-fire agreed with “armed elements” in the area shortly after midnight local time.
In Manila, Gen. Gregorio Catapang, the Philippines’ armed forces chief, told a news conference that Israel and Syria helped in what was the “greatest escape” of Filipino troops after engaging about 100 Islamist fighters surrounding them in a seven-hour firefight. The troops escaped in the middle of the night while the rebels were sleeping, he said.
“This attack prompted UNDOF to reposition our troops to a more secure position within the mission area,” Catapang said.
He said all Philippine troops from two camps, known as Position 68 and Position 69, in the area had been moved to a third location, known as Camp Ziuoani.
On Saturday, 32 Philippine peacekeepers were rescued from terrorists who fired on Position 69 and trapped them for two days, the United Nations said. Catapang said Irish UNDOF troops helped in the rescue. It was not known if any rebels were killed or wounded in the operation.
But later that day, UN diplomatic sources said Islamists had reinforced their siege of the other 40 Philippine peacekeepers still trapped at Position 68.
The UN media office said in a statement that “shortly after midnight local time on August 31, during a cease-fire agreed with the armed elements, all the 40 Filipino peacekeepers from UN Position 68 left the position. The 40 peacekeepers arrived in a safe location one hour later.”
Earlier on Saturday, a Reuters cameraman spotted 11 UN armored vehicles returning to their base in Israeli-controlled territory about 12 hours after the peacekeepers came under fire at around 6 a.m.
The 44 UNDOF peacekeepers from Fiji were detained by terrorists 8 km. away from the Philippine troops.
A commander with the Nusra Front said the Fijian peacekeepers had been detained because UNDOF was aiding the Assad government and had ignored the suffering of the Syrian people.