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Israel shoots down drone; eyes Hezbollah

The Associated Press

JERUSALEM -- Israel shot down a drone yesterday as it approached its northern coast from neighboring Lebanon, raising suspicions that the Hezbollah militant group was behind the infiltration attempt.

Hezbollah denied involvement, but the incident was likely to heighten Israeli concerns that the Shia militant group is trying to take advantage of the unrest in neighboring Syria to strengthen its capabilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in a helicopter in northern Israel at the time of the incident, said he viewed it with "utmost gravity." Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the unmanned aircraft was detected as it was flying over Lebanon and tracked as it approached Israeli airspace.

He said the military waited for the aircraft to enter Israeli airspace, confirmed it was "enemy," and then an F-16 warplane shot it down, smashing its wreckage into the sea about five miles off the northern port of Haifa. Lerner said Israeli naval forces were searching for the remains of the aircraft.

He said it still was not clear who sent the drone, noting it flew over Lebanese airspace, but that it could have originated from somewhere else.

Other military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they believed it was an Iranian-manufactured aircraft sent by Hezbollah. The Lebanese group sent a drone into Israeli airspace last October that Israel also shot down.

Officials said Netanyahu was informed of the unfolding incident as he was flying north for a cultural event with members of the country's Druse minority. They said his helicopter briefly landed while the drone was intercepted then continued on its way.

Despite the denial, the incident was likely to raise already heightened tensions between Israel and Hezbollah, an enemy that battled Israel to a stalemate during a monthlong war in 2006.

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