An Israeli drone strike reportedly killed a Syrian air defense commander Sunday afternoon, hours after Israel’s defense minister threatened to destroy Syria’s air defense array, amid spiraling tensions between Jerusalem and Damascus.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that Israeli aircraft struck a truck driving near the town of Khan Arnabeh in the Quneitra province, on the road to Damascus.
The Lebanese news channel NBN reported that the man killed was Yasser Assayed, a Syrian air defense commander. Other reports said Assayed was a civilian.
According to unconfirmed reports in Israeli media, the aircraft used was a drone.
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The Palestinian daily al Quds earlier on Sunday cited Syrian sources who said the Syrian army had targeted an Israeli drone in Quneitra, causing the drone to retreat.
The IDF refused to confirm or deny the report.
The reported strike came hours after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman threatened to destroy Syrian air defense systems, after Israeli aircraft were targeted during a bombing run early Friday morning.
“The next time the Syrians use their air defense systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation,” Liberman said on Israel Radio.
Early Friday morning, Israeli jets hit an arms transfer meant for Hezbollah near Palmyra, with Syrian air defenses firing missiles at the planes.
An Israeli army statement said “several anti-aircraft missiles” were fired following the raid, but that none hit their targets, rejecting a Syrian claim that one plane was downed and another damaged.
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One missile was intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense battery, military officials said, in the first reported use of the advanced system.
It was the most serious incident between the two countries since the Syrian civil war began six years ago.
Israeli officials have warned of the possibility Hezbollah and Iran could attempt to set up a base to attack Israel near the border with the Israeli Golan Heights.
“Each time we discover arms transfers from Syria to Lebanon we will act to stop them. On this there will be no compromise,” Liberman said Sunday.
“The Syrians must understand that they are held responsible for these arms transfers to Hezbollah and that if they continue to allow them then we will do what we have to do.”
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow, where he asked the Kremlin to make sure Iran does not gain a foothold in the area.
In 2015, a reported Israeli airstrike near Quneitra killed Hezbollah commander Jihad Mughniyeh, amid claims that he had been setting up a base from which to shoot rockets at Israel.