Israel warns it will strike back over rocket attacks
Israel warned the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas that it would strike with “ever-growing intensity” in response to the latest barrage of rocket attacks into the Jewish state.
“Hamas is responsible for the rocket fire and all other attempts to harm our soldiers and civilians, even when other groups participate. And it is Hamas that will pay the heavy price,” Defence Minister Ehud Barak said. “We will strike with an ever-growing intensity.”
The Israeli air force then carried out several raids on the Gaza Strip overnight Sunday.
The air raids targeted a smuggling tunnel and an arms cache in the northern Gaza Strip as well as a rocket launch site in the area, a military spokesman said, adding that the targets had been hit.
The flare-up, which began on Saturday, as well as tough statements from Israeli officials, raised the spectre of a broader Israeli operation against Gaza, along the lines of its devastating Operation Cast Lead over the New Year of 2009.
“During the last two days, the IDF [Israel Defence Force], upon my instruction, has been evaluating the host of options for harsher responses against Hamas and the other terror organisations in Gaza,” Barak said.
In December 2008, just six weeks before general elections, Israel launched a huge operation in Gaza against rocket fire. The 22-day war killed 1,400 Palestinians – half of them civilians – and 13 Israelis, 10 of them soldiers.
Cairo stepped into its usual role as mediator and was attempting to secure a truce, Egyptian security sources said.
Palestinian officials confirmed the initiative and said that the two main militants groups in the Gaza Strip, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, were ready to respect a truce as of Sunday night “provided Israel commits to doing the same”.
The latest violence comes ahead of Israeli elections in January.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned earlier that Israel is “prepared to escalate” its response to Palestinian rocket fire.
“The army is acting and will act forcefully against the terror organisations in the Gaza Strip. They are receiving strong blows from the army,” Netanyahu told a meeting of his cabinet.
“The world must realise that Israel won’t sit by idly in the face of attempts to attack us. We are prepared to escalate our actions,” he said.
On Saturday, Gaza militants fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli jeep along the Gaza border, injuring four soldiers, one of them severely. Three remained in hospital on Sunday.
Israel retaliated with air strikes, shelling and artillery fire that killed six Palestinians and wounded 35 by Sunday night.
Palestinian militants fired at least 85 rockets into southern Israel, leaving four injured in the Israeli border town of Sderot. Two rockets were intercepted by Israel’s missile defence system Iron Dome.
“It’s a very severe situation. Rockets are landing on our towns and villages, almost on a daily basis and of course no democratic country can tolerate such a thing,” said Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, a Netanyahu confidant.
US Ambassador Dan Shapiro, writing on Facebook, said American “thoughts are with the residents of southern Israel, who continue to be bombarded with missile attacks from terrorist organisations in Gaza”.
“The United States supports Israel’s right to defend itself and its citizens from these attacks,” he said.
Meanwhile newly re-elected US President Barack Obama told Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday that his administration opposes a Palestinian bid for non-state membership of the UN, the Palestinian leader’s spokesman said.
“There was a long telephone conversation between president Mahmoud Abbas and Barack Obama,” Nabil Abu Rudeina said. “Obama expressed the opposition of the United States to the decision to go to the UN General Assembly.”