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Israel's Arrow anti-missile system 'in first hit'

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image copyrightAP
image captionIsrael's anti-missile system is one of the most advanced of its kind in the world

Israel has shot down a Syrian missile using its most advanced anti-missile system for the first time, Israeli media say.

A surface-to-air missile (SAM) was intercepted using the Arrow system, designed to stop long-range ballistic missiles, reports say.

The SAMs were fired at Israeli jets which had just raided sites in Syria.

Debris from the intercepted SAM came down in Jordan. Two other SAMs are said to have landed in Israel.

In a rare admission, the Israeli military said its aircraft had attacked several targets in Syria before Syria launched the missiles.

Israel said none of its planes had been "compromised", despite Syria claiming it had shot down one of four aircraft involved in the raid.

A serious escalation: Analysis by Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence correspondent

This episode is unusual on a number of counts. It is rare for Israel to admit to air strikes in Syria though there have been reports of at least four similar raids against Hezbollah weapons shipments since the start of December last year.

This also looks to be the first operational use of Israel's Arrow anti-ballistic missile system - launched possibly at an errant Syrian surface-to-air missile - that might have landed in Israeli territory.

The incident - not least because the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) statement has made it "official" - represents a serious escalation in tensions between Israel and Syria.

It comes less than 10 days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Moscow for talks with Vladimir Putin. Russian radars and aircraft control a significant slice of Syrian airspace.

It's a signal perhaps to all concerned that if weapons supplies to Hezbollah continue, then Israel is ready to escalate its air campaign.

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There has been sporadic cross-border fire between the two countries since the start of the Syrian war in 2011.

Air strikes, said to have been carried out by Israel, have hit sites in Syria on numerous occasions, reportedly targeting weapons shipments for Lebanon's Shia militant movement Hezbollah.

Shells, mostly believed to be strays from the fighting in Syria, have also landed in the Israel-occupied Syrian Golan Heights. Syria has also previously fired anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli fighter planes over its airspace, although none are known to have been hit.

image captionThe SAMs, which were fired from Syria, fell in Israel and Jordan, local media say

The Israeli military said its planes were already back in Israeli airspace when the SAMs were fired in the early hours of Friday.

Israeli media said one missile was intercepted north of Jerusalem by the Arrow system.

The Jordanian military said missile debris also landed in rural areas in the north of the country, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Pictures and video on social media showed a group of people gathered round what were said to be the burnt remains of a missile embedded in the ground amid twisted metal beside a building.

AP said it hit the courtyard of a home in Inbeh, about 25 miles (40 kilometres) from the Syrian border.

image copyrightAFP

What is the Arrow system?

  • An anti-missile defence system jointly developed by Israel and the US in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War, which saw Israel hit by 39 Scud missiles fired by Iraq
  • Two increasingly advanced versions of the system have been developed since it was introduced in 2000
  • Ostensibly designed to take out long-range ballistic missiles (those which leave the Earth's atmosphere on a very high trajectory)
  • Part of a multi-tiered missile defence shield to protect Israel against short-, medium-, and long-range missile threats

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