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Israel shoots down light aircraft

The Israeli army said it shot down a single-engine Cessna 152 aircraft, including this portion of the plane, after it crossed over the border from Lebanon  

BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- The Israeli army has shot down a light civilian plane which crossed over its border from Lebanon, killing the pilot, according to reports.

CNN's Brent Sadler in Beirut said the single-engined Cessna 152 aircraft took off from the flying school at Beirut International Airport on Thursday.

The plane was piloted by a 43-year-old Lebanese of Armenian origin, a non-licensed pilot, who took the aircraft without permission when an instructor's back was turned, Sadler said.

Quoting Lebanese officials, he said the plane flew south of Lebanon, into a prohibited military zone.

The small civilian plane was spotted by the Israeli military as it crossed into Israel which, according to The Associated Press, was on alert for attacks on the first anniversary of Israel's military withdrawal from south Lebanon.

CNN's Mike Hanna has more on the incident (May 24)

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CNN's Mike Hanna has more on the downing of the plane

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CNN's Brent Sadler reports on the plane incident

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CNN's Mike Hanna in Jerusalem said the plane was tracked by Israeli warplanes and helicopters, who established radio contact and made repeated attempts to contact the pilot, but he refused to respond or identify himself.

Quoting the Israeli army, Hanna said the Israeli pilots also made eye contact with him, and fired a warning shot across the front of the plane.

After flying over Israeli territory for 15 minutes, and with still no response from the pilot, the Israeli army shot the plane down on a beach just north of the town of Netanya, said Hanna.

Israeli military sources, quoted by Reuters, said the pilot's body was found in the wreckage.

According to CNN's Mike Hanna, the Israeli army said it took the decision to down the plane "in the light of repeated threats by Hezbollah to take some sort of cross-border action."

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah said on its radio station that the pilot was Stefan Nikolian, and he was flying a civilian training plane.

According to The Associated Press, Hezbollah radio said Nikolian arrived in Lebanon on Wednesday from Cyprus, although it did not say if he was linked to Hezbollah.

Nemeh Malek, director of the plane's owner, JR Executives, said the pilot had flown three or four times this week with a trained pilot, but was not licensed to fly without an instructor.

CNN's Brent Sadler said Nikolian had turned up for a lesson at 11:00 a.m. (0700 GMT) and the instructor had told him to "go to the plane and prepare it." The trainee pilot then switched the plane on and took off.

Sadler said the motive for his actions was unclear.

• Israel Defense Forces
• Israel Prime Minister's Office
• Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
• Lebanon On-Line

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