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Israel warns over Iran’s presence in Syria after air strikes

JERUSALEM (Monitoring desk): Israel starkly warned against Iran’s presence in neighboring Syria on Sunday, after a conflict threatened to instigate a new and unpredictable era in the country’s seven-year civil war.

Israel heavily air-raided in Syria on Saturday, including what it alleged as Iranian targets, this being the first time it publicly acknowledged doing so, since the beginning of the war.

The raids were in answer to the gunning down of Israeli F16 fighter by air defenses of Syria. Even though the pilot survived but this was the first warplane loss to Israel in war, since 1982.

“We inflicted on Saturday a heavy blow to Iranian and Syrian forces,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting.

“We made clear to everyone that our rules of engagement will not change in any way. We will continue to harm anyone who tries to harm us. This was our policy and this will remain our policy.

Other Israeli ministers spoke of refusing to accept Iran entrenching itself militarily in Syria, as Netanyahu has said repeatedly. Tehran denies it is doing so.

While several analysts said they did not expect a further escalation in the coming days, some spoke of the possibility of the Syrian war entering a new phase.

Syria has become more emboldened to try to stop Israeli strikes inside the country, while Israel wants to maintain its ability to operate there when it sees fit, said Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group think tank.

Israel has sought to stay out of direct involvement in the Syrian war, but it acknowledges carrying out dozens of air strikes there to stop what it describes as deliveries of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.

Israel fought a devastating war in 2006 with Hezbollah, which along with Iran and Russia backs the Syrian regime in the conflict.

“I think this incident is more likely to be contained because fundamentally it is a gradual attempt to renegotiate the so-called rules of the game,” Zalzberg said, adding that Russia should mediate.

Witnesses said Israel had deployed a missile defence system in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights near the demarcation line with Syria on Sunday morning.