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Israeli jets down drone that entered airspace

JERUSALEM -- Israel scrambled fighter jets to intercept a drone Saturday that crossed deep into Israeli airspace from the Mediterranean Sea, shooting the aircraft down over the country's southern desert, the military said.

The incident was the first time in at least six years that a hostile aircraft had penetrated Israel's airspace, and Israeli officials said they were taking the incident seriously, raising the possibility of retaliatory action.

It was not immediately clear who launched the drone, which was not armed, or from where. But suspicion quickly fell on the Lebanese Islamic militant group Hezbollah. The Iranian-backed group has sent drones toward Israel several times.

Tensions are running high between Iran and Israel over Tehran's nuclear program, which the West believes is a cover for the development of atomic weapons. The Islamic Republic denies the allegations, and says its program is for peaceful purposes only.

Israel has threatened to attack Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent Iran from making such weapons.

Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich said Israeli ground systems detected the drone, which flew over the Gaza Strip but did not originate there. She said Israeli jets shadowed the drone before deciding to bring it down in the largely uninhabited northern Negev area.

The drone, which was downed near the Yatir Forrest close to the West Bank, had spent about 20 minutes in Israeli air space, an Israeli military official said on condition of anonymity, in line with protocol.

Hezbollah has sent a few aircraft over Israel over the past decade.

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