TEHRAN – Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid on Sunday the blame for his country’s airstrikes inside Syrian territory on his regional enemies Iran and Syria, but Tehran rejected the accusations.
Netanyahu’s claim that Iranian aggression provoked Saturday’s cross-border bombing raids was deemed groundless by the Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Qassemi, following several waves of Israeli airstrikes in Syria after an Iranian drone allegedly entered Israeli-controlled airspace.
“As a sovereign state, the Syrian government and nation have the legitimate right to defend their territorial integrity against any foreign invasion,” Qassemi said in a statement released on the Iranian foreign ministry’s website, adding that his country has only “an advisory presence in Syria at the request of the legitimate and legal government of Syria.”
Earlier on Sunday, the Israeli prime minister tweeted that Tehran had “brazenly violated” the sovereignty of his country.
“They dispatched an Iranian drone from Syrian territory into Israel. Israel holds Iran and its Syrian hosts responsible,” Netanyahu said.
During the initial bombing raids, one Israeli Air Force F-16 was shot down by Syria and crashed in northern Israel, with the two pilots ejecting, which prompted further Israeli airstrikes inside Syria.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the Israeli strikes killed at least six military personnel, both Syrian troops and foreign fighters loyal to Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad.
The SOHR added that the airstrikes targeted an area in Syria’s Homs and al-Dimas region near the Lebanese border, where forces from Iran, the Syrian military and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah are present.
The Syrian official news agency SANA reported on Saturday that anti-aircraft defenses repelled two attacks against military positions and hit more than one plane.
Netanyahu had previously voiced his concern over the increase of pro-Iranian forces in Syria, which back al-Assad.
The International Crisis Group warned in a report this week against increased tension in the north and called on Russia to mediate to maintain the current containment agreements, under which Iranian forces are to stay away from Israeli-controlled territory.