Hizbollah flies drone over northern Israel
Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrillas flew an unmanned surveillance drone over northern Israel on Monday, the group and the Israeli army said.
"In response to repeated and continuous enemy violations of Lebanese airspace, the surveillance plane Mersad 1 carried out a reconnaissance mission in the skies of occupied northern Palestine, flying over several Zionist colonies," a Hizbollah statement said.
The flight at 5.15 p.m. (1015 EDT) flew as far south as Acre on the Israeli coast, the statement said.
"A short while ago, a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) flown by the Hizbollah terrorist organization flew over western Galilee in Israeli territory," an Israeli military spokeswoman said in Jerusalem.
Witnesses said Israeli warplanes broke the sound barrier over the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre and a nearby Palestinian refugee camp just after Hizbollah announced the flight.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which monitors the border between Israel and Lebanon, said it was checking the report. "There have been a few violations by drones and jets today," a UNIFIL spokesman said.
A senior Israeli airforce official voiced concern that Hizbollah had sent the aircraft to escalate tensions along Israel's border with Lebanon while Syria was withdrawing its forces from Lebanon after U.S.-led pressure.
"It is an attempt to harass us and send a message that Hizbollah is still there," the official told Reuters.
"Hizbollah is aiming for massive disruptions ... Hizbollah understands that Syria's move away (from Lebanon) is a chance to shore up its agenda to fight (Israel)," he said.
The U.N. Security Council in September called on Hizbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, to disarm.
Hizbollah said in November it had flown a small reconnaissance drone into Israel for the first time in response to repeated Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace.
Hizbollah said the November flight had taken photos of Israeli towns and returned safely to base. But witnesses said they saw a drone crash into the sea.
The United Nations said in January it was gravely concerned about a flare-up of violence between the Jewish state and Hizbollah, which wants to drive Israeli forces from the disputed Shebaa Farms border area.
Syria, Lebanon and Hizbollah say the area is Lebanese. The United Nations says it is Syrian land.
Hizbollah was one of the main forces behind Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.