BY PETER ENAV
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel's military said it downed a drone along its southern coastline on Monday, the first time it encountered such a weapon since its campaign against the Gaza Strip militants began last week.
The drone came from Gaza and was shot down near the southern city of Ashdod, the military said. It did not say what the drone was carrying and there was no immediate confirmation from Gaza on the use of unmanned aircraft.
Since the latest bout of fighting began last Tuesday, militants have fired nearly 1,000 rockets at Israel, causing some injuries and damage to property, but no fatalities among Israelis. By contrast, 172 Palestinians have died as a result of Israel's air attacks.
But the use of drones with an offensive capacity could potentially inflict significant casualties - something the rockets from Gaza have failed to do, largely because of the success of the military's `Iron Dome' air defense system in shooting them down.
Israel began airstrikes Tuesday against militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip in what it says was a response to heavy rocket fire out of the densely populated territory. The military says it has launched more than 1,300 airstrikes since then, while Palestinian militants have launched nearly 1,000 rockets at Israel.
The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza says 172 people have been killed, including dozens of civilians. There have been no Israeli fatalities, though several people have been wounded, including a teenage boy who was seriously injured by rocket shrapnel on Sunday.
The military said Monday's drone was launched from Gaza and was shot down in mid-flight by a Patriot surface-to-air missile in mid-flight near Ashdod.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that the current Israeli operation could last for "a long time" and that the military was prepared "for all possibilities." That includes a wide-ranging Gaza ground operation, which would likely cause heavy casualties in the coastal strip.
But Netanyahu is coming under increasing international pressure to end the operation soon. On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate cease-fire while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced American "readiness" to help restore calm. Egypt, a key mediator between Israel and Hamas, continued to work behind the scenes to stop the conflict.
Hamas has sent signals it may be ready to consider a cease-fire but appears to be waiting for some tangible military or diplomatic achievement before moving ahead on that front. For his part, Netanyahu wants to show the Israeli public that he has succeeded in significantly degrading Hamas's ability to strike at its Israeli targets before moving ahead diplomatically.
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