Israel Shoots Down Drone Off Haifa, Hizbullah Denies Responsibility

Hizbullah on Thursday denied sending a drone into Israel's airspace, a few hours after the Israeli air force said it shot down an unmanned aircraft several miles off the coast of the northern city of Haifa after it entered Israeli airspace from Lebanon.

“Hizbullah denies sending any unmanned drone into the airspace of occupied Palestine,” said a terse statement issued by the party.

Earlier on Thursday, Israel's deputy defense minister Danny Danon accused Hizbullah of sending the drone.

"We're talking about another attempt by Hizbullah to send an unmanned drone into Israeli territory," he said to the army radio.

However, Israel's Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner was cautious, saying the incident was still being investigated.

"We don't know where the aircraft was coming from and where it was actually going," he said, adding that the navy was "searching for the remains of the UAV" as part of the probe.

Israel's military reported: "An unmanned aircraft (UAV) was identified approaching the coast of Israel and was successfully intercepted by the army aircraft five nautical miles off the coast of Haifa at approximately 14:00 (1300 GMT) today."

The Israeli radio said: “The drone was hit by a missile eight kilometers west of Haifa's port.”

The Jerusalem post elaborated saying the “Israeli Air Force identified a drone flying in Lebanese airspace south towards Israel shortly after 1 p.m. on Thursday.”

“The drone was flying along the coast line,” it detailed.

The Israeli army's spokesman Brig-Gen Yoav Mordechai said that the air defense system tracked the drone for (several) minutes while it was still in Lebanese territory.

“After the Air Force ensured that the aircraft was hostile and not Israeli, the commander of the army gave the order to shoot it down,” the spokesperson's unit said.

“The drone was at 6000 feet when it blew up and it was not immediately clear whether the drone was armed or not.”

MTV reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was aboard a helicopter heading for northern Israel and was forced to land ahead of shooting down the drone.

Netanyahu said “he sees this attempt to breach the borders as extremely grave”.

“We will continue to do whatever we must to protect the security of Israel's citizens," he stressed.

"Israel is preparing to deal with any threat, whether from Syria or Lebanon and whether from land, air or sea.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon spokesman said: “We learned from the media that the Israeli air force has shot down a drone and we're investigating these reports.”

But later on Thursday, UNIFIL official spokesman Andrea Tenenti said the U.N. force cannot confirm that the drone had flown over its area of operations in southern Lebanon.

On October 6 2012, Israel shot down a drone over southern Israel's Negev desert after it entered the country's airspace from the Mediterranean Sea.

Netanyahu then pointed at Hizbullah and vowed to defend his country against further "threats."

Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah later acknowledged that his group sent the sophisticated unmanned drone over Israel, saying the device was built by the Jewish state's arch-foe Iran.

"It's not the first time (that a drone was sent) and it will not be the last. We can reach all the zones" of Israel, said Nasrallah, referring to a less sophisticated drone sent by Hizbullah during its 2006 war against Israel.

“We will leave it to the Israelis to evaluate the intelligence and operational capabilities of the drone. This capability is only part of the surprises of any future war,” he went on to say.

Source: Naharnet, Agence France Presse

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