Israel says fires Patriot at drone from Syria, which turns around unhit

JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (Reuters) - Israel’s military said it launched Patriot anti-aircraft on Sunday at an incoming drone from Syria, which turned away unscathed, and a Syrian commander said the pilotless plane was engaged in local operations.

The Syrian army with the help of allied forces has been mobilizing troops and sending reinforcements in a widening military campaign to regain rebel held territory near the area where the drone was targeted and along the border with Jordan.

Iranian-backed militias are believed to be backing the Syrian army’s offensive against a string of rebel held towns in Quneitra province near the Israeli border, according to a Western intelligence source.

“The drone is for operations in southern Syrian around where the battles are going on,” a commander in the regional alliance supporting President Bashar al-Assad told Reuters.

The southwest is of strategic concern to U.S.-allied Israel, which has this year stepped up attacks on Iran-backed militia allied to President Bashar al Assad.

Israel says it will continue to target Iranian assets in Syria with the goal of forcing Tehran out of the war torn country.

Reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut, Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Toby Chopra and David Evans