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Israel shoots down drone near Syrian border

By Shelby Lin Erdman, CNN
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
An Israeli soldier walks near a border crossing Sunday in Quneitra. Israel shot down a drone over the area with a Patriot missile.
An Israeli soldier walks near a border crossing Sunday in Quneitra. Israel shot down a drone over the area with a Patriot missile.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Israel uses a Patriot missile to take down a drone from Syria in the Golan Heights
  • It is the first time Israel has shot down a UAV from Syria
  • It's unclear which group was operating the drone and why
  • At least 44 United Nations peacekeepers were detained by militants in the Golan Heights

(CNN) -- Israel has shot down an unmanned aerial vehicle that entered Israeli airspace near the Syrian border on Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed.

The drone was destroyed by a Patriot surface-to-air missile over Quneitra in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.

"In spite of the IDF's sensitivity to recent occurrences in the proximity of the border, we have repeatedly stated that we will respond to any breach of Israel's sovereignty and will continue to act to maintain safety and security to the civilians of the State of Israel," Lerner added.

This is the first drone from Syria that Israel has shot down, although the IDF has shot down UAVs from Hamas and Hezbollah before.

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A Syrian rebel fighter keeps an eye on government troops in Aleppo, Syria, on Wednesday, December 17. The United Nations estimates nearly 200,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising in March 2011 spiraled into civil war. A Syrian rebel fighter keeps an eye on government troops in Aleppo, Syria, on Wednesday, December 17. The United Nations estimates nearly 200,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising in March 2011 spiraled into civil war.
Syrian civil war in 2014
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Photos: Syrian civil war in 2014 Photos: Syrian civil war in 2014

It's unclear which group in war-torn Syria was operating the UAV and why. It could have been the embattled government of President Bashar al-Assad or any of a number of rebel fighting groups or militant organizations.

The downing of the drone is the latest development in the Golan Heights on the Israeli-Syrian border, where United Nations peacekeepers were attacked on Saturday. U.N. officials said they were working to gain the release of dozens of peacekeepers detained by Islamist fighters when the attack occurred.

The U.N. has not identified the group responsible for detaining at least 44 peacekeepers, but an Israeli military official told CNN Syrian militants are behind the incident .

Al-Nusra Front fighters and other Syrian rebels seized control of the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing last week -- a capture that represents a new dynamic in a war long feared not only for its deadly effects inside Syria but for threatening to widen into a destabilizing regional conflict.

Syria is in turmoil as a bloody yearslong civil war rages on.

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force has been in place in the Golan Heights since 1974 to maintain a ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

Israel seized control of the Golan Heights during the 1967 Six-Day War and fought off an attempt by Syria in 1973 to retake the rocky plateau.

In 1981, Israel annexed the Golan Heights. It is considered by the international community to be occupied territory.

READ: U.N. counts 3 million Syria refugees

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CNN's Michael Schwartz contributed to this story.

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