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Israel vows 'disproportionate' response to rockets

Jerusalem, February 1, 2009

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert threatened on Sunday a "disproportionate" response to the continued rocket and mortar fire into Israel from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Shortly after Olmert spoke, three Israelis were wounded by mortars, medics and the Israeli army said. The wounded included two soldiers and the first Israeli civilian hurt since a January 18 truce ended Israel's 22-day offensive in the coastal enclave.

Two rockets struck southern Israel earlier on Sunday, causing no damage or casualties. A wing of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a group belonging to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for that attack.

No group made an immediate claim for the mortar shootings. "The government's position was from the outset that if there is shooting at the residents of the south, there will be a harsh Israeli response that will be disproportionate," Olmert said at the weekly cabinet meeting.

"We will act according to new rules which will ensure that we will not be drawn into a war of incessant shooting on the southern border, which would deprive the residents of the south of a normal life," he said, without elaborating.

A spokesman for the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip condemned what he described as Olmert's "aggressive statement."

But the spokesman, Taher al-Nono, also urged all Palestinian factions to "respect the national consensus" on the ceasefire the Islamist group declared two weeks ago after Israel announced it was halting the Gaza offensive.

Tough talk

Israel was criticized internationally for the deaths, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, of more than 1,300 Palestinians, including at least 700 civilians.

Critics said Israel had responded disproportionately, in its air and ground offensive in heavily populated areas, to cross-border rocket attacks over the previous eight years that killed 18 people.

During the Gaza campaign, 10 Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed.

Since the truce, in addition to Sunday's injuries, an Israeli soldier was killed and three others were wounded when a bomb exploded next to their patrol. Israeli air strikes since January 18 have killed three Palestinians and wounded 10.

Israel said Hamas militants bore responsibility for civilian deaths in Gaza by operating inside its towns and refugee camps.

Egypt has been trying to broker a long-term ceasefire that would end Hamas weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip and also lead to a reopening of Gaza border crossings, one of the Islamist group's main demands.-Reuters




Tags: Israel | response | vow |

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