Hezbollah Sent Iranian-Made Drone Plane Over Israel Airspace And Returned Home Safe.
BEIRUT, Lebanon - Hezbollah sent a reconnaissance drone into Israeli territory over northern Jewish settlements Sunday in the first hostile aerial incursion from Lebanon since a hang glider attack 17 years ago killed six soldiers.
The militant Islamic group said that the flight was in response to repeated Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace and that it reached Israel's northern coastal city of Nahariya on the border before returning to base.
It was unclear if the drone was a homemade, makeshift aircraft or bought from abroad. Hezbollah did not describe its capabilities, say how many it had or provide further details, but promised there would be more flights.
Israel claimed the craft was Iranian-made, and the army confirmed that it penetrated Israeli airspace early Sunday and flew over western Galilee.
In a statement faxed to The Associated Press, Hezbollah said a reconnaissance drone of the Islamic Resistance, the group's military wing, carried out its first flights over "occupied northern Palestine, flying over several Zionist settlements, reaching the coastal settlement of Nahariya and returning safely to its base."
The flight was believed to be the first hostile aerial incursion from Lebanon into Israel by guerrillas since Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command members sailed over in 1987 on a hang glider and killed six soldiers before being shot dead.
"This qualitative and new achievement by the Islamic Resistance in Lebanon comes as part of a natural response to the Zionist enemy's repeated and permanent violations of Lebanese airspace," a Hezbollah statement said.
Israel's army described the flight as evidence of Lebanon's lack of control within its territory and said "Israel views gravely any infiltration into its sovereign territory from the air, sea or by land, and will act to ensure the security of its citizens."
"This incident is part of the terrorist activity carried out by the Hezbollah terrorist organization with the support of Iran and Syria under the auspices of Lebanon, with the aim of targeting Israeli citizens," the army statement said.
Hezbollah pledged more such flyovers, saying they would be made "whenever the resistance wants" to counter "Zionist violations and attacks on Lebanese sovereignty."
Since Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000, Israeli planes have frequently violated Lebanese airspace on reconnaissance missions, drawing anti-aircraft fire from the Lebanese army and Hezbollah guerrillas. Fragments of exploding shells have often fallen on Israeli border communities, causing panic and drawing warnings from Israel.
In recent years, Israeli officials have accused Hezbollah of acquiring new, longer-range rockets that could strike deep into Israel.
Hezbollah, which is on the U.S. State Department list of terrorist organizations but recognized in Lebanon as a resistance group, has refused to confirm or deny the missile claims.
But the group, which is backed by Iran and Syria, is known to possess thousands of 127mm Katyusha rockets with a range of up to 17 miles.
Lebanon's own armed forces has no drones or fighter jets, with lightly armed helicopters forming the backbone of the air force.
Lebanon repeatedly has complained to the United Nations (news - web sites) about Israeli reconnaissance flights, drawing U.N. responses of concern and calls to stop them. Last month, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah warned his group was adopting a new strategy to confront Israeli warplanes in Lebanese airspace but didn't sound entirely confident about how well it would work.
"We will try to impose a new strategy but whether we succeed in preventing the air violations or not, we will give a try," he said at an Oct. 29 Hezbollah rally.
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