JERUSALEM (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — Israel’s military said it downed a drone along its southern coastline on Monday, the first time it encountered such a weapon since its campaign against the Gaza Strip militants began last week.
The drone came from Gaza and was shot down near the southern city of Ashdod, the military said. It did not say what the drone was carrying.
Hamas tweeted Monday that it had “deployed a number of pilotless drones into Israel,” claiming they had “carried out specific reconnaissance missions” over the War Ministry in Tel Aviv.
Israeli TV was reporting there could have been at least a second drone launched toward the Jewish state.
Since the latest bout of fighting began last Tuesday, militants have fired nearly 1,000 rockets at Israel, causing some injuries and damage to property, but no fatalities among Israelis.
Israel began airstrikes Tuesday against militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in what it says was a response to heavy rocket fire out of the densely populated territory. The military says it has launched more than 1,300 airstrikes since then.
The Israeli military said it hit a weapons storage facility late Sunday night, and targeted 12 Palestinian militants over the last 24 hours, reports CBS News’ Holly Williams, but at the al-Sharif Hospital in Gaza on Monday morning, CBS News found not militants, but two brothers — four-year-old Hamada and two-year-old Hamadan.
They were injured when an airstrike hit their neighbor’s house.
Their father, Mohammed, told CBS News the Israeli military telephoned the neighbor to warn them to evacuate, but they only had three minutes and didn’t make it out in time.
“I wish it were me lying here wounded, not my boys,” the father said.
Officials here said more than 170 people have been killed since Israel’s offensive began, many of them civilians.
Thousands of Palestinians have fled northern Gaza, taking refuge in school buildings run by the United Nations.
Though there have been no Israeli fatalities, several people have been wounded, including a teenage boy who was seriously injured by rocket shrapnel on Sunday.
The Israeli military said Monday’s drone was launched from Gaza and was shot down in mid-flight by a Patriot surface-to-air missile near Ashdod.
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. Thousands of Israeli troops have massed along the border in recent days.
Netanyahu told Fox News that Israel will use “any means necessary” to stop Hamas.
“We cannot accept that and will take the necessary action to stop it,” Netanyahu told Fox News. “We’ll do what any country would do.”
The fighting showed no signs of slowing, despite international calls for a cease-fire and growing concerns about the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza.
Netanyahu, in particular, is coming under increasing international pressure to end the Israeli 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.
Israel says its punishing air assault on Hamas militants, their property and their weaponry has delivered a devastating blow to the Islamic militant group. Yet rocket fire at Israel has continued almost unabated.
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.
It 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.
The military also says it wants to punish Hamas for the violence. But both goals are hard to quantify in the short term. A similar offensive in November 2012 was also deemed a military success, though it left Israel vulnerable to rocket fire. Israel also launched a large offensive in late 2008 that delivered a tenuous cease-fire.
“There is no knockout, it is more complicated,” said a senior military official involved in the fighting, who spoke on condition of anonymity under military guidelines. But, he added, “if there is a map of pain that the enemy sees, it will have to think about things.”
The rocket threat has been in the making for well over a decade. In the early 2000s, Hamas began firing rudimentary, homegrown rockets that were inaccurate, flew short distances and carried a tiny payload.
Today, the army says the group 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.
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