Israel visitor numbers nosedive during Gaza offensive

Israelis and tourists running from the beach to take cover in a nearby hotel in the costal city of Tel Aviv on July 14, 2014 during a rocket attack fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip. In July, 218,000 visitors were recorded entering I
Israelis and tourists running from the beach to take cover in a nearby hotel in the costal city of Tel Aviv on July 14, 2014 during a rocket attack fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip. In July, 218,000 visitors were recorded entering Israel, 26 per cent less than in July 2013 and the lowest number for any July since 2007, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. -- PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel's rapidly growing tourism industry nosedived during its blistering July war with Hamas, the number of visitors falling 26 per cent to its lowest level in seven years.

In July, 218,000 visitors were recorded entering Israel, 26 per cent less than in July 2013 and the lowest number for any July since 2007, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Of that number, 24,000 were day trippers, typically arriving on cruise liners or crossing through the land borders for a lightening visit to religious sites or the Dead Sea.

The remaining 194,000 were tourists - defined as someone who spends at least one night - with the numbers for July some 21 per cent lower than the same period a year earlier, and the lowest number for any July since 2007.

Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said plans were being drawn up to encourage visitors back.

"Israel is preparing for the 'day after'," he said. "The tourism ministry is planning to invest in marketing campaigns in target countries around the world in order to encourage incoming tourism."

Israel said 2.1 million visitors entered the country from January to July, an increase of 4 per cent on the same period in 2013.

Israel launched an air campaign in Gaza on July 8, followed by a ground assault nine days later in a bid to destroy Hamas rockets and attack tunnels used to infiltrate the Jewish state.

Hostilities paused on Monday for a three-day truce, with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Cairo to try and broker a more permanent end to the fighting.

Hamas has fired more than 3,400 rockets at Israel, endangering millions of citizens. EU and US authorities suspended flights for two days in July after rockets landed close to the main runway at Tel Aviv airport.

The Israeli operation has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, of whom the UN says nearly three quarters were civilians.

On the Israeli side, 67 people have been killed, 64 of them soldiers.

Last Saturday, tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched through central London condemning the Israeli operation in the third major demonstration in the British capital in the last four weeks.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at international criticism of the high numbers of Palestinian civilians who were killed by blaming Hamas for hiding behind human shields.