Israeli PM warns bombing of Gaza Strip may intensify

Tue, Mar 13, 2012, 00:00

WITH NO end in sight to cross-border violence, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned the military is ready to expand its operations if Gaza militants continue to fire rockets into southern Israel.

Addressing the Knesset (parliament), Mr Netanyahu said the military strikes would continue as long as necessary.

“The Israel defence forces are continuing – strongly and decisively – to attack the terrorists in the Gaza Strip. Whoever intends to harm our citizens, we will strike at him.”

In Gaza, Islamic jihad officials issued an equally belligerent statement, vowing to fight on “whatever the cost may be”.

At least five more Palestinians were killed yesterday, the fourth day of the current conflict, as Israel continued pounding Gaza from the air, bringing to 23 the number of fatalities.

Militants fired more projectiles into Israel, with one landing close to the town of Gadera, only 28km south of Tel Aviv.

More than 200 rockets have been fired at Israel since Friday, with Israeli defence officials describing the barrage as a dramatic development in terms of quantity and rate of fire compared with previous rounds of violence.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, has stayed out of the current round of fighting; gunmen from smaller militant groups claimed responsibility.

Hamas officials are continuing contacts in Cairo with Egyptian representatives in an effort to secure a truce.

Mahmoud al-Zahar of Hamas predicted a ceasefire would be agreed soon but said the timing depended on Israel.

The Arab League issued a statement accusing Israel of carrying out a massacre.

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon expressed grave concern over the escalation and said civilians on both sides were paying a heavy price.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian envoy to the UN, called on the security council to “act with urgency to address this crisis”, accusing Israel of staging an “escalation of deadly violence”.

Israel criticised the international community’s “silence” over rocket attacks from Gaza and said in a letter to the UN that it would take “all necessary measures” to protect civilians against the renewed barrage.

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said the continued fire from Gaza “buries any chance of a territorial link between Gaza and the West Bank”.

The Palestinians seek both areas as part of a future state, even though Gaza is controlled by Hamas and the West Bank by Fatah.

An Israeli ground assault on Gaza in 2008/2009 led to the deaths of 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.