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U.s., Israel in Separate Air Strikes over Lebanon; 2 U.S. Navy Planes Downed by Syrians

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Tension ran high in the region today following a large scale air attack by U.S. carrier-based warplanes on Syrian gun emplacements in Lebanon. Two of the American aircraft were shot down, according to announcements by the U.S. Defense Department and by Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger who was in Paris today for talks with French officials prior to attending a NATO meeting in Brussels later this week.

The U.S. said the attack on Syrian positions was in response to Syrian anti-aircraft fire on U.S. reconnaissance flights over Lebanon in the past few days. According to the reports from Washington, today’s attack was mounted by 28 naval aircraft from the carriers Independence and Kennedy steaming in Lebanese waters. The pilot of one of the downed U.S. planes, an A-7 Corsair, parachuted to safety and was rescued. An A-6 Intruder attack bomber was also shot down. One of its pilots was reported killed and the other taken prisoner by the Syrians.

The American air strike this morning followed one by the Israel Air Force yesterday which was aimed at Syrian-backed Palestinian bases in Lebanon. A military spokesman said it was ordered in response to “a chain of attacks, terrorist actions and attempted attacks on Israeli soldiers in Lebanon.” All Israeli planes returned safely to their bases, he said.

The targets of the Israeli attacks were reported near Bhamdoun and Sofar, towns overlooking the Beirut-Damascus highway. The pilots reported direct hits. There was no verification of news agency reports that a Syrian radar station was destroyed. Beirut radio said the Israelis also attacked positions occupied by Druze militia in Lebanon.

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