Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Benjamin Netanyahu says rocket fire makes new war in Gaza inevitable

The Israeli leader said plans were in place to strike the territory and that he would decide the optimal timing of any offensive

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks at his watch before delivering a statement at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks at his watch before delivering a statement at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem December 19, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday warned of a new operation in Gaza after a series of rockets were fired into Israeli territory in recent weeks, the latest in a slew of announcements that appear to be aimed at winning him votes ahead of next week’s repeat election.

Mr Netanyahu said advanced plans were in place to strike Gaza and that he would decide the optimal timing of the offensive, given the Gaza Hamas rulers' unwillingness to stop the daily barrages.

The Israeli military has responded to the attacks with limited strikes against Hamas installations that have caused no casualties and little damage, and has refrained from risking a larger conflagration on the eve of Israelis heading to the polls.

Palestinian groups say they fire rockets to break the Israeli siege, which has last for 12 years and imposes crippling economic and travel restrictions on the enclave’s two million residents. Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008, conflicts that have left thousands of Palestinians and dozens of Israeli soldiers dead. The UN has said that the territory will be unlivable by 2020.

"I do not wage war unless it is a last resort and I don't risk the lives of our soldiers and citizens just to get applause," Mr Netanyahu said in an interview with Kan Reshet Bet Radio. "We will probably have no choice but to set out on a big campaign, a war against the terror forces in Gaza."

"I won't start it one minute before we are ready, and we are preparing for a 'different war'," he added, shortly before flying to Russia for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

In the latest tit-for-tat, Israeli aircraft carried out strikes on the Gaza Strip overnight after rockets were fired from the coastal enclave, a military statement said early on Thursday.

"Rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory," it said in English without giving details.

"In response...fighter jets and an Israel Defence Forces aircraft struck a number of terror targets in a Hamas military compound in the northern Gaza Strip," it added.

No injuries were reported on either side and no Palestinian faction claimed responsibility. Israel blames Hamas, the rulers of the enclave, for all fire that comes from the territory. But a smaller faction known as Islamic Jihad, backed by Iran, has been blamed for some of the rocket fire in recent months.

Wednesday's afternoon exchange came a day after rockets fired from the Palestinian territory towards the Israeli city of Ashdod forced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to flee the stage during a campaign rally.

Video posted on WhatsApp by Mr Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party showed him returning to the stage after the all-clear and saying that Hamas was scared of him winning next Tuesday's general election.

"If it attacks us on live TV, you understand that it doesn't want us here," he told his audience.

The Israeli premier’s comments came as international criticism of his plan to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank continued, with many saying that it threatened to destroy any hopes of two states, one Israeli and one Palestinian, living side-by-side.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres expressed concern about the plan to annex a quarter of the occupied West Bank if he is re-elected on September 17, saying it would be illegal and gut prospects for regional peace.

"Such steps, if implemented, would constitute a serious violation of international law," he said in a statement.

"They would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations and regional peace, while severely undermining the viability of the two-state solution."

Updated: September 12, 2019 04:15 PM

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