Netanyahu: Israel Ready to 'Expand' Gaza Operations
Israel is "ready" to expand its operations in Gaza, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned Sunday after the air force struck 12 targets overnight following a surge in terrorist rocket fire.
Speaking to ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said the almost-nightly military strikes on Gaza could be expanded should the need arise.
His remarks came after a sharp hike in tensions along the border as terrorist groups have stepped up their fire on southern Israel.
"Over the weekend, the IDF attacked multiple targets in response to firing at Israel from the Gaza Strip. We are ready to expand this operation as per need," Netanyahu said, without elaborating.
But speaking to army radio ahead of the cabinet meeting, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned a limited response would only strengthen the Islamist movement Hamas, which held power in Gaza for the past seven years but stepped down earlier this month when a unified government with the West Bank was sworn in.
"We have seen that, at the end of the day, limited operations only strengthen Hamas so the alternative is clear," he said, repeating his long-held assertion that Israel should re-occupy the Gaza Strip, which it left in 2005.
Israeli warplanes struck 12 terrorist targets in Gaza overnight, with Hamas officials saying two people had been lightly injured.
The army said the sites targeted were being used for "terrorist activity."
The raids took place after six rockets struck southern Israel on Saturday evening, one of which hit a factory in Sderot industrial zone, causing an explosion and major fire as the flammable substance ignited, police said. Three people were lightly wounded in that attack.
On Friday, two Islamist terrorists were killed in an Israeli air strike on a car near Gaza City.
The IDF said the two terrorists, Osama Hasoumi and Mohammed Fatsih,were targeted due to their role in recent rocket attacks against Israeli civilians. The airstrike was recorded by security cameras on the street they were passing through in Gaza's Shati refugee camp, and uploaded to Youtube Saturday.
Hours earlier, a bomb had exploded along the southern sector of the border, prompting Israeli tanks to open fire towards the southern city of Khan Yunis, injuring five Palestinians.
The military said it had fired on "lookout posts used to guide the attack" with Palestinians officials saying it had targeted "two mosque minarets east of Khan Yunis."
Over the past fortnight, 25 rockets fired from Gaza have struck southern Israel out of a total of 28 since the start of the month, prompting a series of almost nightly Israeli air strikes. Last month, the total was seven.
The rise in rocket fire appears to be part of a general escalation since the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in Judea more than two weeks ago. Israeli officials say Hamas is behind the kidnappings and named two Hamas members as prime suspects. Meanwhile, Hamas's deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk admitted that his group is turning a blind eye to rocket attacks on Israel, despite the ceasefire in place between Hamas and Israel.
So far, more than 400 Palestinian terror suspects have been arrested as part of the search for the missing boys and accompanying crackdown on Hamas, dubbed Operation Brother's Keeper. Most of the arrested are Hamas members.
Another five terrorists have been killed after attacking IDF troops during the course of the operation.