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Israel shoots down drone

| Thursday, April 25, 2013, 7:42 p.m.

JERUSALEM — Israel said on Thursday it shot down an unmanned aircraft that had entered Israeli air space off the northern coast near Haifa, the second such incident in nearly seven months.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said the drone was first detected as it was flying along the coast of Lebanon toward Israel. When it became clear that the aircraft was not going to stop or change course, Israel dispatched helicopters and F-16 warplanes to destroy it about five miles off the coast as it was flying at an altitude of about 6,000 feet.

A naval search for the downed aircraft was under way.

Military officials said they suspect the drone was sent by Hezbollah. The Lebanese militant group issued a brief statement on its television station, Al-Manar, denying any role in the flight.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose helicopter happened to be flying in northern Israel at the time of the incident and was temporarily grounded as a precaution, said he viewed the attempted border breach with “utmost gravity.”

Both Israel and Lebanon use drones equipped with cameras to spy on one another.

Israel shot down a drone over the Negev desert in October. At the time, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah acknowledged responsibility for sending the unarmed aircraft, which he said had exposed weaknesses in Israel's air defense system because it was not shot until reaching land.

Hezbollah, with assistance from Iran, has been developing drones for years to spy on Israel or use in potential attacks. Its first drones were flown and shot down during the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and the militant group.

Hezbollah maintains it is responding to Israeli jets and drones that routinely fly over Lebanon to conduct mock attacks and surveillance.

Israeli officials vowed to retaliate for the incident. It occurs at an increasingly tense time in the region amid a 2-year-old uprising in neighboring Syria

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