JERUSALEM — Israel intercepted a drone sent from Gaza on Monday as it flew just off the shore of the port city of Ashdod, about 14 miles north of the Palestinian enclave, adding a new element to the weeklong conflict.
The military wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for sending a “number of drones” into Israel, describing the event on its website as one of the “surprises” it had promised over the last week and saying the drones had been dispatched on “special missions.” An Israeli military spokesman did not rule out the possibility that the Palestinians had access to additional drones.
Also Monday, Israel charged three Jews with kidnapping and killing a Palestinian teenager, an apparent act of revenge for the deaths of three young Israelis last month. The killings touched off days of protests and further inflamed tensions in Jerusalem and in the Palestinian territories.
Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, says the three appeared before court Monday, according to the Associated Press. He says the suspects admitted to abducting Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, and setting him on fire. Rosenfeld says they also re-enacted the murder. He did not provide the suspects’ names.
The death toll in Gaza from Israeli air and missile strikes continued to mount. Pierre Krähenbühl, the commissioner-general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, which assists Palestinian refugees, said in a press briefing that he was “deeply alarmed and affected by the escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip and the devastating human and physical toll it is taking on civilians, including Palestine refugees.”
He put the latest casualty numbers there at 174 killed and over 1,100 wounded, adding indications are that “women and children make up a sizable number of victims of the current strikes.”
According to a statement issued by his office, Krähenbühl urgently called on the Israeli army to “put an end to attacks against, or endangering, civilians and civilian infrastructure which are contrary to international humanitarian law.”
He also called for an end to rocket fire from Gaza aimed at Israel, which the United Nations has described as indiscriminate.
It was not immediately clear whether the drone was carrying explosives or surveillance equipment. The Israeli military said it had shot down the drone with a Patriot surface-to-air missile.
“It was shot to smithereens,” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an army spokesman, said, adding that the navy was searching for remnants of the drone along the coast. Lerner said that military scanners had picked up the drone as it took off from Gaza and that it was shot down in a location that posed the least risk to civilians.
Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, said in a statement Monday that the downing of the Hamas drone was “an example of the attempts to continue to harm us by any means, and of the preparedness of the Israel Defense Forces,” and that “Hamas is trying to chalk up an achievement at any price.”
Israel destroyed a drone-manufacturing facility in Gaza during a previous round of cross-border fighting, in November 2012, and has intercepted at least two drones in Israeli airspace that were dispatched by Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite organization to the north, in the last couple of years. The drone Monday, however, was thought to be the first to have entered Israel from Gaza.
Despite growing international calls for a cease-fire, Israel continued its air offensive in Gaza and rockets continued to fly into Israel on Monday. International alarm has been growing over the rising death toll among Palestinians in Gaza — more than half of them noncombatants. More than 1,100 people have also been wounded, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
Israeli troops are massed at the Gaza border, where they are awaiting a government decision about whether to embark on a ground operation — a development that would likely bring significantly more casualties.
Also Monday a Palestinian man was fatally shot by the Israeli military during a clash in the village of Samua in the southern West Bank, according to Palestinian news reports and the military. The official Palestinian news agency, WAFA, identified the dead man as Munir Ahmed Hamdan Al-Badarin, 21.
A military spokesman said initial information indicated that a several Palestinians were throwing stones and firebombs at Israeli cars and that a soldier or soldiers opened fire. He added that the episode was under investigation by military authorities.
President Mahmoud Abbas of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority was expected to discuss efforts to end the violence at a meeting of the Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo later Monday. Jamal Shobaki, the Palestinian ambassador to Egypt, told Palestinian radio Monday that Abbas was in contact with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt as part of an effort to halt the Israeli offensive in Gaza.
Israel and Hamas have begun laying out their conditions for a cease-fire deal, but officials on both sides said Sunday that there was no firm proposal or active mediator in place yet.
Israeli military officials say that Hamas is looking for an “image of victory” before it gives up.
They have also suggested that the militants are frustrated by the lack of Israeli fatalities so far in the fighting, something that has been largely attributed to Israel’s sophisticated Iron Dome missile defense system, which has intercepted most of the rockets heading for built-up areas, and to Israelis quickly seeking shelter after hearing warning sirens. In addition, the rockets are largely inaccurate, many falling in open ground outside cities.
Hamas has fired about 1,000 rockets into Israel in the past week, including some that have reached as far north as the Hadera area, south of the port city of Haifa. Several have been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system over the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas, but others have struck cities in the south, causing injuries and property damage.