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Israel Threatens To ‘Destroy’ Syrian Air Defenses After Missiles Fired

Israel has warned Damascus not to use its air-defense systems against its warplanes after the Syrians fired at Israeli jets carrying out attacks against a convoy suspected of supplying weapons to the Hizballah militant group.

"The next time the Syrians use their air-defense systems against our planes, we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation," Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on March 19.

Hizballah is fighting alongside Syrian government forces in the country's six-year civil war.

The Lebanon-based, Iran-backed Shi'ite group has been a sworn enemy of Israel and has fired thousands of rockets into the country over the past 10 decade.

Israel and the United States consider Hizballah a terrorist organization and a "proxy" for mostly Shi'ite Iran.

On March 17, Israeli warplanes hit several targets near the Syrian desert city of Palmyra.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the strikes had targeted weapons being sent to Hizballah fighters.

The Syrian military claimed to have shot down an Israeli jet and hit another as they were carrying out the strikes.

Israeli denied that any planes had been hit, but it did say "several antiaircraft missiles" were fired following the raid.

"Each time we discover arms transfers from Syria to Lebanon, we will act to stop them. On this there will be no compromise," Defense Minister Lieberman said.

Lieberman said he did not want to interfere in the Syrian civil war or provoke a confrontation with Russian forces who are supporting the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Netanyahu has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent months to set up a "hotline" between the two countries to prevent accidental clashes between their forces, despite both sides having different interests in Syria.

The six-year war in Syria -- which began with a government crackdown on pro-democracy protesters on March 15, 2011 -- has killed an estimated 300,000 people and displaced millions more.

The United States and Turkey support various rebel groups, while Russia and Iran support Assad.

Fighters of the Islamic State (IS) militant group have also entered the war and are opposed by both sides

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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