An Arab citizen of Israel has flown by paraglider into neighbouring Syria in what appeared to be an intentional attempt to join a rebel group there.
Military officials said the 23-year-old, from an Arab town in Israel, had planned the manoeuvre with the intent of joining Syrian rebel fighters.
Dozens of Arab citizens of Israel have sneaked into Syria in recent years to join the civil war. This would appear to be the first case of someone doing so via air.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet yesterday that he would work to revoke the man’s citizenship.
“Whoever joins the enemy’s ranks to fight Israel will not be an Israeli citizen,” he said.
Initially, there was concern that an Israeli citizen had been accidently swept into Syria by the winds and captured by one of the rebel groups there.
If such a scenario had unfolded, it would have put Israel in the dire situation of having to reclaim a hostage.
But Israeli army sources later said the man had flown against the prevailing winds, suggesting the journey was undertaken deliberately.
“IDF [Israel Defence Forces] surveillance post identified a paraglider entering Syria,” the army said in a tweet. “Initial investigation suggests Israeli-Arab crossed intentionally.”
Israeli army spokesman Moti Almoz said: “We don’t know whether anyone was waiting to receive him on the other side, but we assume that someone gliding against the direction other people glide does so on purpose.”
Israel officially maintains a neutral stance on the Syrian conflict.
Its citizens are banned from travelling there, but a small number of Israeli Arab citizens are understood to have gone to fight in Syria nonetheless – though not usually by air.
It is believed that the man who flew into Syria on Saturday night was from Jaljulia, a mainly Muslim Arab town north-west of Tel Aviv, the army said.
It said it had been unable to find the man despite intensive searches in the area where he landed near the Golan Heights – an area in south-western Syria annexed by Israel in 1981, in a move not recognised internationally.
Reports yesterday said the man had come down either in Syria’s Quneitra province, which includes the Golan Heights, or in the neighbouring Deraa province.
One report said he had been picked up by someone on the Syrian side after landing.
A minister from MrNetanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, Ofir Akunis, said the man had “crossed to the border into Syria... to join ISIS [Islamic State] forces”.
Last night, Israel’s intelligence services were continuing the search for the man.