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Israel intercepts suspicious aircraft near Tel Aviv

Israeli Air Force

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Jerusalem, Oct. 10 (Xinhua-ANI): The Israeli Air Force (IAF) scrambled jets to Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv early Wednesday, after an unidentified aircraft was spotted entering its airspace, local media reported.

Control tower officials at the country's gateway facility grounded outgoing flights, and instructed incoming flights to enter holding patterns for about five minutes until the military jets identified the aircraft.

When the suspicious flight was deemed not hostile, the alert was stood down and flights resumed, Israel Radio said.

"These are regular occurrences that take place whenever suspicious objects are spotted," an army source told the Walla news site.

"It's better not to take chances. We raise alerts and send out aircraft to rule out security breaches," the source said, according to The Times of Israel.

The incident comes only four days after IAF jets shot down a rogue drone that entered southern Israeli airspace, apparently in an attempted surveillance mission.

Amos Gilad, director of policy and political-military affairs at the Defense Ministry, on Tuesday told Israel Radio that whoever sent the drone aimed to gather intelligence about Israel and tarnish the Israeli air force's image, and failed at both.

While Gilad added that Israel was still unaware of the identity of the entity which sent the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), Channel 10 news revealed Monday that Iran-backed Lebanon-based Hezbollah might have been responsible for launching the device.

The Shi'ite group reportedly possesses dozens of such aircraft.

In the incident, IAF fighters intercepted the UAV, which had penetrated into Israel's airspace from the Mediterranean Sea near the Gaza Strip. A fighter jet fired two missiles at the drone, the second one shooting it down over the northern Negev desert.

The aircraft , which was not carrying explosives, flew over West Bank settlements and military bases before it was downed, according to The Jerusalem Post.

It is unclear if the craft was guided by internal GPS navigation, satellite signals, or was under direct external radio control during the half hour it penetrated Israeli airspace.

Gilad added that the IAF identified the UAV early on, and shot it down only after it overflew unpopulated, open ground.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who visited IAF bases in northern Israel on Tuesday, told officers they were serving in times of "uncertainty" in the area and are facing "difficult challenges."

Barak's visit came a day after the deployment of a new Patriot surface-to-air missile battery near the northern port city of Haifa on Monday, following the UAV's interception.

The Ha'aretz daily noted that there have been several similar drone overflights from Lebanon over the past decade, presumably launched by Hezbollah. (Xinhua-ANI)

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