Palestinian militants resumed rocket attacks on Tel Aviv yesterday after a 24-hour lull in strikes on the Israeli commercial capital, while Israel kept up its air and naval bombardments of the Gaza Strip despite growing international pressure for a ceasefire.
The Israeli military said it had shot down a drone from Gaza, the first reported deployment of an unmanned aircraft by Palestinian militants whose rocket attacks have been regularly intercepted. The use of a drone would mark a step up in the sophistication of the Palestinian arsenal, although it was not immediately clear whether it was armed.
Since the start of the week-old offensive, Gaza health officials said 169 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed. Around half a dozen Israelis have been wounded.
The worst flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence for almost two years was sparked by the murder of three Israeli teenagers and the revenge killing of a Palestinian youth.
Israel has arrested three people, two of them minors, over the Palestinian’s murder.
The European Union said it was in touch with “all parties in the region” to press for an immediate halt to the hostilities, a day after America’s secretary of state John Kerry offered to help secure a Gaza truce.
Egypt and Qatar are seen as potential mediators, but peace efforts were complicated by the rejection by Hamas – the Islamist group which rules Gaza – of a mere “calm for calm” deal in which both sides hold their fire, in favour of wider conditions including prisoner release and an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza.
The Israeli army said its aircraft and naval gunboats attacked dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip and that Palestinian militants fired more than 20 rockets into Israel, slightly wounding a boy in the town of Ashdod, where a home was damaged. Palestinian health officials said at least 20 people in Gaza were wounded.
But Israel did not carry out a threat to step up attacks against rocket-launching sites it said were hidden among civilian homes in the town of Beit Lahuiya after urging residents to leave. A United Nations aid agency said around a quarter of the town’s 70,000 residents had fled.
Tel Aviv experienced a rare lull in morning rocket strikes, but they resumed during the evening rush hour, with the Iron Dome missile interceptor system going into action. Police said there were no casualties or damage.
Hamas said its armed wing had sent several locally-made drones to carry out “special missions” deep inside Israel.
Some 27 British nationals and their Palestinian dependants were evacuated from Gaza on Sunday night amid violence in the region, Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
MPs were told that the families left Gaza through Israel to Jordan before travelling onward.
In a statement to the Commons Mr Hague insisted the UK’s objectives are to secure a ceasefire to end the violence affecting Palestinians and Israelis, to alleviate humanitarian suffering, and to “keep alive” the prospects for peace negotiations, which he told MPs is the “only hope of breaking this cycle of violence and devastation once and for all”.