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Israeli fighter jets shoot down drone

TEL AVIV, Israel — The Israeli military said it shot down a pilotless drone Thursday, five nautical miles off the coast of its northern port of Haifa, after tracking it for an hour as it flew south along the Lebanese coast.

“Once we confirmed that it was not a friendly aircraft and it had entered Israeli airspace, F-16 aircraft intercepted it with air-to-air missiles,’’ said Captain Eytan Buchman, a spokesman for the Israeli military.

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Buchman said that the military had not yet confirmed conclusively where the drone had originated, and that officials were investigating whether it was armed.

But suspicions immediately fell on Hezbollah, the Shi’ite organization in Lebanon, which fought with Israel during a monthlong war in 2006.

In October, after Israel shot down a drone that had flown 35 miles across its southern territory, Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, boasted that his fighters had assembled and remotely flown the aircraft. He said it had been designed in Iran and assembled by Hezbollah experts in Lebanon. It was Hezbollah’s right to deploy drones, he asserted, noting that Israel’s military aircraft frequently violated Lebanese airspace.

‘‘It was not the first time, and it will not be the last,’’ Nasrallah said at the time.

The latest incursion comes at a delicate time as Israel warily monitors the civil war in Syria for fear that sophisticated weapons could be transferred from the Syrian army into Hezbollah’s hands and taken into Lebanon. Israel has declared that it would not tolerate such a development. In late January, Israeli warplanes struck a convoy of antiaircraft weaponry outside Damascus that US officials said had been headed to the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement: ‘‘I view with utmost gravity this attempt to violate our border. We will continue to do everything necessary to safeguard the security of Israel’s citizens.’’

NEW YORK TIMES

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