The Israeli military said it downed a drone launched by Gaza militants on Monday, the first time it encountered an unmanned aircraft since the start of its offensive last week, as three Jewish suspects in the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager made their first court appearance.
Israel began its campaign against militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza last Tuesday, saying it was responding to heavy rocket fire from the densely populated territory. The military says it has launched more than 1,300 air strikes since then, while Palestinian militants have launched nearly 1,000 rockets at Israel.
The new Israeli air strikes pushed the death toll in Gaza to at least 175. There have been no Israeli deaths as a result of Hamas rocket launches, though several people have been wounded, including a teenage boy who was seriously injured by rocket shrapnel on Sunday.
DRONE STRIKE: FIRST SIGNS OF HAMAS DRONE ARSENAL
The Israeli military said the Hamas drone was shot down in mid-flight by a Patriot surface-to-air missile along the southern Israeli coastline, near the city of Ashdod.
The use of the unmanned drone marked a new and unexpected tactic by Hamas, which has never before acknowledged having such weapons. Although it was quickly shot down, the drone represented a new level of sophistication for the militant group. In the past, Hezbollah militants in Lebanon have sent at least one drone into Israel that also was shot down.
A senior military official said that Israel was aware that Hamas possessed drones, and that Israel has targeted Hamas drone facilities in Gaza before. Speaking on condition of anonymity under military guidelines, he would not say how far the plane flew or discuss its capabilities.
In a statement to media, Hamas claimed it launched three drones at Israel on Monday, though the military insisted there was only one. Hamas said it has developed two types of drones – one for intelligence gathering, and one for delivering munitions. It also said it lost contact with one of the drones and that the targets included the Israeli Defence Ministry compound in Tel Aviv.
ROCKET FROM LEBANON: ROCKET STRIKES NORTHERN ISRAEL
At least one rocket fired from Lebanon hit northern Israel on Monday and Israel responded by shelling the launch site, the Israeli military and Lebanese security sources said.
There were no immediate reports of casualties from the attack. It was at least the fourth time rockets have been fired from Lebanon since the start of a week-old Israeli offensive against Palestinian militants firing rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip.
The rocket was fired from the area around the southern city of Tire, Lebanese security sources said. Israel responded by firing at least 15 shells, one source said. An Israeli military spokesman said the army “fired a salvo of shells and flares towards the launching site in Lebanon.”
On Friday, Lebanese authorities said they had arrested a man suspected of being behind one of the rocket attacks. The national news agency said he was a member of a “fundamentalist group” but did not give details.
MOHAMMED ABU KHDEIR: SUSPECTS IN COURT
Israel has ordered three Jews suspected in the kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager held until Friday as they made their first court appearance.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says the three appeared before a court on Monday. He says the suspects admitted to abducting 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir and setting him on fire. Rosenfeld says they also re-enacted the murder.
Rosenfeld initially said the three had been charged in the killing but later corrected his statement to say they had been ordered held until Friday.
Abu Khdeir was taken on July 2 near his home in east Jerusalem and his charred body was later found in a forest. His death set off days of violent protests in Arab areas of Jerusalem and northern Israel.
GAZA: DEADLY AIR STRIKES IN KHAN YOUNIS
Meanwhile, Israel continued its aerial attacks on the Gaza Strip, with four Palestinians reported killed in two Israeli air strikes on the southern city of Khan Younis on Monday, according to officials from the city’s European Hospital.
The officials said Saddam Moamar, his wife Hanadai, and his father Mousa were killed by an airstrike that hit their house. Their neighbour, Maher Abu Mor, was killed in another airstrike while standing on the rooftop of his home, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.
It was not immediately clear why their homes were targeted.
Also Monday, a 21-year-old Palestinian was killed during confrontations with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank village of Samoa, near Hebron, Palestinian health officials said. Residents of the village said soldiers opened fire at a group of Palestinians who were throwing stones at them. The officials and the villagers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media. The Israeli army confirmed the death and said it was looking into the incident.
CONFLICT: NETANYAHU UNDER PRESSURE TO MAKE PEACE
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 Gaza ground operation, which would likely cause heavy casualties in the coastal strip.
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 ceasefire and has demanded that hundreds of recently arrested activists be freed as part of any prospective truce.
For his part, Netanyahu is likely seeking to show the Israeli public that he has succeeded in significantly degrading Hamas’s ability to strike at Israeli targets before moving ahead diplomatically.