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Trails of smoke are seen after the launch of rockets from the northern Gaza Strip towards Israel, yesterday.
JERUSALEM: Sporadic missile fire from the Gaza Strip hit southern Israel yesterday for a fourth straight day, with Egypt trying to secure a truce and Israel warning it would toughen its response if the violence continued.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened foreign ambassadors in what appeared to be an attempt to pre-empt international censure should Israel, whose 2008-2009 Gaza offensive exacted a costly civilian toll, again go in hard.
Netanyahu briefed the envoys in Ashkelon, a port city within range of some Palestinian rockets.
“None of their governments would accept a situation like this,” he said.
“As the prime minister of Israel, I am not prepared to accept such a situation, and we will take action to stop this.”
The Israeli military said Palestinians had fired 11 rockets in the morning, after more than 110 in the preceding 72 hours.
Netanyahu said a million Israelis - around one-eighth of the population - were in danger. Israel has been deploying its Iron Dome rocket interceptor, air raid sirens and blast shelters, but eight people have still been wounded by the salvoes. Six Palestinians including four civilians have been killed by Israeli shells fired on Gaza, and 40 wounded.
“We will need to toughen our response until Hamas says ‘enough’ and ends the firing,” Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon told Army Radio.
Gaza is governed by the Islamist movement Hamas, which does not recognise Israel’s right to exist. While it took part in missile launches at the weekend, it did not claim responsibility for yesterday’s attacks, suggesting it was looking to step back.
A Palestinian official who declined to be named said Egypt had been trying to broker a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian factions and that, although no formal truce was in place, Hamas understood the need for calm. Yesterday’s launches were claimed by smaller groups, including a radical Salafi organisation that rejects Hamas’ authority. Hamas was due to convene a meeting of other Palestinian factions.
Israel has shown little appetite for a new Gaza war, which could strain relations with the new Islamist-rooted government in neighbouring Egypt. The countries made peace in 1979.
But Netanyahu may be reluctant to seem weak ahead of a January 22 election that opinion polls currently predict he will win.
Yaalon admitted there was no “bang and we’re done” solution and declined to say if Israel would return to a policy of targeted killings of Gaza leaders.
There have been regular bursts of violence in recent months, with the intervening periods of quiet getting shorter.
Israel said the latest flare-up started on Thursday with a fierce border clash. On Saturday, a Palestinian missile strike wounded four Israeli troops patrolling the boundary, triggering army shelling of Gaza in which the four civilians died.
In turn, dozens of mortars and rockets were launched at Israel, which carried out a series of air strikes in Gaza.
The top-selling Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth said the United States had given a green light for an Israeli operation in Gaza. The political adviser to Ismail Haniyah, Gaza’s prime minister, said he believed Egypt’s new president, Mohammed Mursi, provided “a safety net” for the Palestinians.
“The president of the biggest neighbouring Arab country (has) said: We will not allow a new war on Gaza, and Palestinian blood is our blood,” Youssef Rizqa wrote in the pro-Hamas daily Felesteen.
huge expansion plan
Israel is preparing for a huge expansion of the Itamar settlement in the northern West Bank, the Peace Now settler watchdog said yesterday. The plan, which has yet to be approved, would see Itamar expanding five-fold from 137 homes to 675. According to Peace Now spokesman Lior Amihai, a defence ministry committee was to convene on Wednesday to start preparing plans for adding 538 homes.
“We see this as very dramatic,” he said. “To enlarge it to 675 is to enlarge the settlement to almost five times its size.”
The defence ministry said the meeting was primarily about approval for buildings already in place, and stressed that plans for new construction had not yet been approved.
“Regarding construction beyond what exists now, the defence ministry must provide further approval,” it said in a statement. “There is currently no approval for any further construction.”