Nov. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Israeli leaders vowed to escalate military operations against the Gaza Strip after two days of Palestinian rocket attacks and warned Syria that additional cross-border fire would bring a “painful” response.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel won’t “sit idly by” after more than 65 missiles fired from Gaza yesterday caused property damage and injuries in neighboring Israeli communities. Defense Minister Ehud Barak raised the prospect of a new ground offensive, the first since Israeli troops withdrew from Gaza in 2009 after a three-week military assault that left more than 1,100 Palestinians dead.
“If we have to re-enter to strike Hamas and provide security for Israeli citizens, we won’t hesitate,” Barak said, speaking at an international defense industry conference in Tel Aviv.
Violence in Gaza increased amid concern about renewed conflict on Israel’s northern border with Syria, its quietest frontier since the 1973 Middle East War. A mortar shell shot from Syria yesterday struck an army post on the Israeli- controlled side of the Golan Heights, causing no injuries. Israeli soldiers responded with warning shots and the government filed a complaint with the United Nations.
“We are closely monitoring what is happening on our border with Syria and there we are also ready for any development,” Netanyahu said at his weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
“The Israeli military has been instructed to prevent” the Syrian conflict “from spilling over into our territory,” Barak said in Tel Aviv. “Additional shelling into Israel from Syria will elicit a tougher response, exacting a higher price from Syria.”
The latest violence in the south was ignited when Palestinian militants fired an anti-tank missile at an Israeli patrol along the Gaza Strip border fence Nov. 10, wounding four soldiers, the army said in an e-mailed statement. The Israeli military responded with tank shelling and several air strikes into Gaza, including a direct hit on one rocket-launching squad, killing six and wounding more than 30, according to Ashraf al- Qedra, spokesman for the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.
At least 65 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel in the past two days, damaging a number of buildings and injuring three people lightly, said Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman.
Barak said Israel holds Hamas responsible for the attacks from Gaza and said the group will pay a “severe and painful” price for them.
“There’s no evidence linking the incidents in the south with that at the north, although both highlight Israel’s vulnerability to be hit simultaneously on two fronts in two unrelated conflicts,” said Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University outside Tel Aviv. “Responding to the Syrian incident is difficult, because Israel is caught in a crossfire and doesn’t want to be seen helping either the Syrian regime or the rebels.”
Israel’s Syria front has been largely quiet since it repelled an attempt by Syrian forces to reclaim the Golan Heights area it lost to Israel in the 1967 war. Last week, three Syrian tanks entered the Golan demilitarized zone, and a Syrian mortar shell landed on Israeli-controlled territory as fighting intensifies between forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces seeking to oust him.
The Islamic Hamas movement seized control of Gaza from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party in 2007, ending a partnership government a year after winning parliamentary elections. The group refuses to recognize Israel or any prior deals signed with it and is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.
The so-called Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, an armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, said in a statement it took responsibility for the attack on the Israeli patrol. The group is one of several Palestinian militant groups in Gaza that operate independently of Hamas. Israel says it holds Hamas responsible for all attacks from Gaza.
Israel discovered an explosives-filled tunnel built underneath the Gaza border into Israeli territory, the army said on Nov. 8.
Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire near the border this past week, including a teenage boy, according to Gaza officials.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government, which was voted into power earlier this year, has close ties with Hamas and negotiated a temporary cease-fire on rocket attacks from Gaza after an outburst of violence last month.
Israel conducted a three-week military operation in Gaza to stop rocket attacks that concluded in January 2009. The Hamas Ministry of Health in Gaza said 1,450 Palestinians were killed during that operation, while Israel puts the number at 1,166. The army said 13 Israelis died in the violence.
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