Israel’s military said it shot down a drone that crossed into its airspace from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights on Sunday, the latest sign of intensified civil war battles along a tense border that have caught United Nations peacekeepers in the crossfire.
Israel’s military said it fired a Patriot missile at the drone and that it believed it was likely launched by either the Syrian army or Hezbollah in the internal battles against rebel forces.
“Our sense is that it wasn’t the intention to attack Israel,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman. Nevertheless, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel has little tolerance for violation of its “sovereign” airspace and that its response would be “aggressive.”
The intercept came just hours after U.N. peacekeeping forces from the Philippines made dangerous escapes from two border outposts in Syria, where they were trapped for two days by rebel forces including the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front.
Despite the rescue, some 44 Fijian peacekeepers remain in captivity three days after their position near the Quneitra crossing was overrun by rebel forces who have wrested control of the area from the Syrian army.
The Nusra Front released a statement over the weekend saying they were holding the Fijians, and that they were being treated well. The group criticized the U.N. role in the Syrian civil war.
Recent gains by Islamist-led rebel forces along the Golan Heights border have spurred concern about rising instability on the frontier that could force U.N. troops who have buffered for four decades to withdraw.
It also comes at a time of heightened international attention over gains in eastern Syria and Iraq by the extremist group Islamic State.
On Saturday, Filipino peacekeeping soldiers came under fire from rebels at two separate outposts near the Quneitra crossing. One detachment of some 32 Flippino soldiers were rescued early Saturday by Irish peacekeeping troops in armored personnel carriers.
At the second outpost, Filipino peacekeepers came under heavy mortar and gunfire on Friday in a shootout that lasted more than seven hours. With rebel groups ramming the gates of the U.N. compound, the Filipino soldiers fired back in self-defense, Philippines Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said in a news conference in Manilla.
At one point, the Syrian army fired mortar rounds in an attempt to relieve rebel pressure on the U.N. outpost, the Associated Press reported.