Israel says it has shot down an unmanned drone off of its coast. Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group denied involvement in the incident, which had forced the Israeli premier’s aircraft to make a landing.
The Israeli military said on Thursday that it had shot down a shot the aircraft down as it approached the country's northern coast.
In a press briefing, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said it had been spotted moving down the Lebanese coast early in the afternoon before it entered Israeli airspace.
"A little after 1 p.m., our aerial defense system identified [a drone] moving from north to south along the coast of Lebanon," he said. Aircraft, helicopters and combat airplanes were then scrambled.
Lerner said that once the military had confirmed the aircraft was "enemy," an F-16 warplane shot it down some 8 kilometers (5 miles) off the northern port of Haifa and that the Israeli navy was searching for wreckage.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was travelling by helicopter in northern Israel at the time, said he viewed the incident with "utmost gravity."
'All necessary safeguards'
Netanyahu's helicopter briefly landed while the drone was intercepted, before resuming its flight to a cultural event for the country's Druze minority in the village of Julis, about 32 kilometers northeast of Haifa.
"On my way here in the helicopter, I was told that there is an infiltration attempt of a drone inside the skies of Israel," said Netanyahu. "We will continue to do everything necessary to safeguard the security of Israel's citizens."
Suspicion immediately settled on Lebanese militants Hezbollah, which fought a war with Israel in 2006 and which had claimed responsibility in October for sending a drone over Israel's Negev desert.
However, Hezbollah said it was not responsible. "Hezbollah denies sending any surveillance plane into the airspace of occupied Palestine," said a brief statement.
The United Nations Interim Force in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) said it was investigating the incident.
UNIFIL has some 12,000 troops and naval personnel in the country under a UN resolution that halted the 2006 conflict. Southern Lebanon remains a stronghold for Hezbollah.
rc/kms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)