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Israel Extends Gaza Air Strikes, Downs Palestinian Drone

Israeli Airstrikes
Palestinians inspect the rubble of their building that was partially destroyed following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, on July 13, 2014. Photographer: Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

Israel struck back against fire from the Gaza Strip, Syria and Lebanon and downed a Palestinian drone that breached its airspace as its offensive against Gaza militants entered a seventh day.

Israel targeted about 100 “terror sites” in Hamas-controlled Gaza today while more than 70 rockets were fired at Israel from the Palestinian enclave, the military said. “The heavier the blow we give from the air the easier it will be to carry out a ground operation, if that proves necessary,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said today on Israel Radio.

The Gaza Health Ministry says about 170 Palestinians, including dozens of children and other civilians, have been killed since Israel stepped up its air raids a week ago following intensified rocket attacks. While Israeli homes and vehicles have been struck by the more than 1,000 rockets fired since July 8, a missile defense system has intercepted about 200 headed for built-up areas, the military said. A tourist died of a heart attack during an air raid, rescue services said.

Gaza has become a frequent battleground since Israel evacuated it in 2005 after a 38-year occupation while imposing, together with Egypt, sharp restrictions on the movement of people and goods to and from the enclave. Two major Israeli air and ground offensives in the territory since 2009 have only temporarily quashed rocket fire.

Markets Unfazed

The current round of violence erupted after Israel arrested hundreds of Hamas militants in connection with the abduction of three Israeli teenagers later found dead in the West Bank. It flared further with the killing of a Palestinian youth in a suspected revenge attack.

Market reaction to the fighting has been muted. In the past week, the Tel Aviv TA-25 Index fell less than the MSCI World Index of developed-nation stocks and yields on domestic 10-year bonds dropped. Two companies sold 515 million shekels ($150 million) of bonds and bets on fluctuations in the shekel remained near a nine-year low.

While 38,000 reservists are being called up for a possible ground incursion, it’s not clear whether Israel will indeed invade Gaza and if so, how extensive the objectives of such an operation would be.

‘More Risk’

“If you’re talking about a large-scale operation, imposing order on Gaza, wiping out rockets, toppling Hamas, that’s something that could take a long time,” said Efraim Kam, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “I see more risk than opportunity there,” with the possibility of entanglement, soaring casualties and international pressure to pull out, Kam said in a phone interview.

Another option would be brief ground forays to destroy rocket sites or attack Hamas leaders, he said. “If they can think of a limited ground operation that won’t bring heavy international pressure to get out fast or heavy casualties to us and to the Palestinians, I think that’s possible,” Kam said.

From the air, Israel has so far struck about 1,500 targets, according to the military. The army spokesman’s office said it didn’t have information on whether the drone from Gaza, shot down over the southern city of Ashdod, carried explosives.

Calls for Restraint

The Palestinian casualties have prompted calls from world leaders for Israeli restraint. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pushed for a truce in a call with Netanyahu, a U.S. official said yesterday on condition of anonymity to discuss the conversation. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said ties with Israel, frayed by a deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza in 2010, can’t be normalized while the operation continues, the Anadolu news agency reported.

“There are always going to be civilian casualties, which we regret,” Netanyahu told Fox News Sunday. “But we have to defend our people, and that’s what we’ll do.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said Israel has called off at least 14 attacks on senior Hamas terrorists this week because of potential civilian casualties.

At Gaza’s main hospital, Shifa, supplies are short, fuel is expensive and scarce, and staff have been working without pay or half-pay for more than a year, said Professor Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian emergency services physician. “The condition in Shifa is really very critical,” he said.

Fire From North

Amid the Gaza fighting, at least one missile was fired from Syria overnight and landed in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, causing a blaze, the army said. Several rockets were also fired from Lebanon at northern Israel, and one hit an open area, the military said in a text message. No injuries were reported from either incident, and Israel responded to both with artillery fire, the message said.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon warned that Israel “won’t tolerate” fire from Syria and Lebanon, and “will know how to respond forcefully,” according to an e-mailed statement from his office. He said Israel has inflicted “tremendous damage on Hamas, and its leaders ‘‘will regret they went to battle against Israel.’’

Israel, the U.S. and European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.

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