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Syria Says It Fired on Israeli Aircraft That Violated Its Airspace


Syria says it has fired on intruding Israeli aircraft. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, the incident points to tensions between the two regional powers that have been simmering for months.

State-run Syrian television broke into its regular programming with a dramatic announcement.

It said that Syrian air defenses opened fire on Israeli planes that violated the country's airspace.

A Syrian spokesman said the aircraft broke the sound barrier and fired on a deserted area, causing no injuries or damage. The planes were forced to return to Israel. The spokesman warned Israel against what he called "further flagrant aggression."

The Israeli army refused to comment, saying it does not discuss military operations.

The incident is a sign of escalating tension, a year after Israel went to war against Syrian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. A few months ago, the Israeli army warned of a Syrian military buildup, prompting broad speculation in the media that war could break out this year.

Israel fears that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has become bolder after the army failed to crush Hizbollah during the Lebanon War.

"There is no doubt that after the war in Lebanon there was a change in the Syrian attitude toward this issue of military conflict with Israel," said Israeli analyst Eyal Zisser. "Before the war it was not on the Syrian agenda at all. Now, Bashar al-Assad himself says very clearly, 'I am now considering this possibility.'"

Israel has been conducting war games on the strategic Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967.

"So what we can see on both sides of the border is the Israeli army and the Syrian army preparing themselves for a potential war," Zisser said.

Israeli and Syrian leaders have said they do not want a war, but Zisser says the border incident is a warning that it can happen.