Israel military says it has shot down drone along southern coastline

July 14th, 2014 by Staff

(www.foxnews.com) Israel’s military said Monday that it had downed a drone along its southern coastline, marking the first time it had encountered such a weapon in its week-long campaign against Islamic militants in the Gaza Strip.

The drone came from Gaza and was shot down by a Patriot surface-to-air missile near the southern city of Ashdod, the military said. It did not say what the drone was carrying and there was no immediate confirmation from Gaza on the use of unmanned aircraft.

However, the use of drones with an offensive capacity could potentially inflict significant casualties — something the rockets from Gaza have failed to do, largely because of the success of the military’s ‘Iron Dome’ air defense system in shooting them down.

In addition to the drone, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) says that militants have launched 971 rockets at Israeli cities in the six days since Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge,” a bid to halt such attacks. No Israeli fatalities have been reported, though a teenage boy was seriously injured by rocket shrapnel in the town of Ashkelon on Sunday.

The military says that due to years of generous Iranian shipments, thousands of rockets remain in Gaza, and there is no quick way to eliminate the threat. The army says Hamas has an arsenal of some 10,000 rockets, including longer-range, foreign-made weapons capable of reaching virtually anywhere in Israel. The current round of fighting has seen air-raid sirens sound in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, Israel’s three largest cities.

Israeli analysts say that most of the remaining long-range rockets are believed to be stashed beneath residential buildings, and that the only way to completely remove the threat would be to re-conquer Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in 2005, and stay there for a lengthy period. Such a scenario would carry great risk, and Israeli leaders are wary.

On Monday morning, The Times of Israel reported that the IDF had declared an area just north of the Gaza Strip border to be a closed military zone. The significance of the declaration was not immediately clear, but the paper reported that ground forces were continuing to muster on the border.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the current Israeli operation could last for “a long time” and that the military was prepared “for all possibilities.” That includes a wide-ranging Gaza ground operation, which would likely cause heavy casualties in the coastal strip.

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza says 172 people have been killed by Israeli airstrikes, though it is not clear how many are civilians and how many are operatives of Hamas or other militant groups.

The IDF says its goal is to inflict so much pain on Hamas that it will be deterred from attacking Israel again — just like Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon have largely remained on the sidelines for the past eight years.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the military estimated 20 percent of the rockets in Gaza have either been fired or destroyed by Israel. Besides diminishing Hamas’ future capabilities, he said Israel’s assaults were mostly aimed at convincing Hamas never to try it again.

“When they come out of their bunkers and they look around, they are going to have to make a serious estimation of whether what they have done was worth it,” he said. “And people will look in their eyes and say ‘Why did you do this? What did you gain from this?’”

But Netanyahu is coming under increasing international pressure to end the operation soon. On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate cease-fire while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced American “readiness” to help restore calm. Egypt, a key mediator between Israel and Hamas, continued to work behind the scenes to stop the conflict.

Hamas has sent signals it may be ready to consider a cease-fire but appears to be waiting for some tangible military or diplomatic achievement before moving ahead on that front. For his part, Netanyahu wants to show the Israeli public that he has succeeded in significantly degrading Hamas’s ability to strike at its Israeli targets before moving ahead diplomatically.


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