Israel downs drone from Gaza, Palestinians flee air strikes (+video)

Israel said it shot down a drone near Ashdod with a Patriot missile. Hamas has continued its menacing but ineffective rocket barrage into southern Israel as foreign nationals in Gaza flee.

By , Staff writer

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Israel's siege of Gaza shows no signs of abating a week into the conflict. Thousands of Palestinians fled the northern part of the territory in anticipation of a new round of Israeli strikes and Hamas continued its threatening but ineffective rocket barrage on Israel.

Israel announced that it shot down a drone near Ashdod, an Israeli city 20 miles north of the Gaza Strip, using a Patriot missile. Reuters writes that if confirmed, the drone's use "would mark a step up in the sophistication of [Hamas's] arsenal." Hamas claims that it has sent several drones into Israel on "special missions," according to Ma'an News Agency by way of Haaretz. Israel said it was searching for the drone's wreckage to determine if it had been carrying explosives.

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The drone is merely a footnote in the larger conflict that began last month with the murder of three Israeli teens who were kidnapped while hitchhiking in the West Bank. Israel pins the murder on Hamas, though the Palestinian group has neither confirmed nor denied its involvement in the teenagers' deaths.

Last week Israel launched a broad aerial offensive on Hamas in Gaza as Hamas stepped up its rocket offensive against southern Israeli civilian targets. The barrage from Gaza has caused mostly damage and minor injuries; no Israelis have been killed. The Los Angeles Times reports that Israel puts the overall tally of rockets fired at around 800 since Tuesday.

Officials in Gaza put the death toll there at about 172 people, mostly civilians, reports BBC, though Israeli military officials claim that figure is not objective.

On Sunday, thousands of Palestinians fled the city of Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) dropped leaflets warning it would begin bombarding the district. The Los Angeles Times reports that some 17,000 people sought refuge in United Nations-run facilities nearby ahead of Israeli attacks on Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials' homes as well as rocket-launch sites within the city.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz highlighted the flight of some 800 foreign nationals from Gaza, mostly British and American passport holders. One Palestinian businessman, Aashraf Abushaban, fled to Canada with his son Yussef.

“I made a very difficult decision. I left so many things behind – my business, my mother, my family. I looked at my only son Yussef, who was becoming sick, and I told him: “Yussef, I’m taking you back to Canada”, says Abushaban. “I know it’s hard leaving your city, especially during a war, but things have reached a critical stage.”

Abushaban says that there is no business activity in Gaza now and all the shops are closed.

“To be honest,” he says, “Gazans are used to war. And war is terrible. But I think people couldn’t take it (the economic situation) any longer. Most people are saying ‘enough.’ Believe me, most people in Gaza want to live in peace, but the closure of the Strip is killing them. The crossings into both Israel and Egypt are closed, but I hope that Israel and Egypt will offer some relief to Gaza residents. I believe that when you live in a prison you become angry and nervous. If business and border crossings are open people don’t think of war, since life continues smoothly.”

Despite increasing calls from the international community for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, none appears to be forthcoming. US Secretary of State John Kerry, joined by French and German officials, offered on Sunday to broker a truce, reports Reuters. But Israeli officials said that "Israel would, for now, pursue its military offensive 'to restore quiet over a protracted period by inflicting significant damage to Hamas and the other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.'"

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are equally uninterested in a peaceful solution, Reuters reports. "[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu began this crazy war and he must end his war first," Hamas leader Izzat Al-Reshiq told Al-Arabiya television.

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