Hamas adds drones to arsenal in conflict with Israel
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Israel said Monday it had shot down a drone operated by Hamas, the first reported use of an unmanned aircraft by the Islamist group in a sign of the growing sophistication of its military hardware.
The Israeli military said the drone was launched from Gaza and shot down in-flight by a US-built Patriot surface-to-air missile near the city of Ashdod along the southern Israeli coastline.
Israel said its forces were trying to locate debris from the unmanned aircraft to determine whether it had been armed.
In a statement Monday, Hamas said its Al-Qassam Brigades armed wing had in fact launched three drones into Israeli territory, though contact had been lost with one of them, and that targets included the Israeli Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv.
The Israeli military insisted that only one drone had been launched, however.
Hamas claims to have developed two different types of drones – one for reconnaissance missions and one capable of carrying weapons.
Hamas-affiliated TVstation Al-Aksa TV broadcast a video Monday allegedly showing one of the group’s drones in use. The video, posted an Al Qassam Brigades Twitter feed, showed a drone in flight carrying what appear to be missiles.
While Hamas claims the drones are “homemade”, Jeff White, a defence analyst and expert on Gaza at the Washington institute for Near East Policy, told FRANCE 24 it is likely they had outside help.
“From the images they look similar to drones used by Iran, which have limited strike capabilities,” he said.
“[Hamas] undoubtedly had help from Iran or maybe Hezbollah in developing the drones. It’s not something they would have been able to come up with entirely on their own.”
It is the first time that the use of drones by Hamas has been reported. Until now, the group’s assaults on Israel have been mostly restricted to rocket attacks.
Hamas militants have launched nearly 1,000 rockets at Israel since fighting began, but without causing a single Israeli casualty.
This is down in part to Israel’s “Iron Dome” system, which locates and destroys rockets heading for populated areas. The use of armed drones could be a way for Hamas to bypass these defences.
However, according to White, the deployment of drones is “not a real game changer” for Hamas.
“It is unclear what capabilities the drones have or how many Hamas has at their disposal,” he said. “It is really just a morale boost for Hamas. They are using all the capabilities at their disposal against Israel.”
The drones are most likely to be used for reconnaissance missions, such as scouting for possible rocket targets or surveying damage caused by previous attacks, said White.
Gaza death toll rises to ‘at least 175’
Meanwhile, Israel continued to target the Gaza Strip with air strikes Monday. Two Israeli airstrikes hit the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, killing four Palestinians, officials from the city’s European Hospital told the AP news agency.
According to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, the latest strikes bring the death toll in Gaza to at least 175, including dozens of civilians.
The Israeli military says it has now carried out more than 1,300 aistrikes since it began its campaign against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip last Tuesday in what it said was in response to heavy rocket fire from the territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the attacks on Gaza could last “for a long time”. He added that the Israeli military was prepared “for all possibilities”, suggesting a ground operation has not been ruled out.
It comes despite growing international pressure for an end to the hostilities.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate ceasefire on Sunday, while US Secretary of State John Kerry offered to help mediate a truce.
Hamas has made it clear that it is not prepared to accept a peace deal until Israel accepts a number of conditions, including freeing hundreds of Palestinians prisoners and ending its blockade on Gaza.
“Netanyahu began this crazy war and he must end his war first,” Hamas leader Izzat Al-Reshiq told Al-Arabiya television.
“There can be no ceasefire unless the conditions of the Resistance are met,” he added.