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Israel warns Gaza missiles could provoke new offensive against militants

Gaza militants fired 15 mortars or rockets into Israel on Monday and Tuesday in an unexpected flare-up two years after Israel's devastating offensive on the Hamas-controlled coastal strip.

By Correspondent / December 22, 2010

A Palestinian man checks the damage of an abandoned house that was destroyed during an Israeli air strike overnight in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Dec. 21. Violence is escalating along the Israeli-Gaza border, with the Israeli air force striking seven suspected militant sites in Gaza and Palestinian militants sending a rocket into southern Israel.

Eyad Baba/AP

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Tel Aviv

On the eve of the second anniversary of Israel's 23-day offensive against Hamas in Gaza, a period of relative calm in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been shattered by missile launches from the coastal strip and Israeli counterstrikes.

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On Monday and Tuesday, 15 mortars or rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel compared to some 200 for all of 2010, leaving one Israeli teenager lightly wounded and prompting a formal protest to the United Nations. Over the weekend, Israeli attacks killed four militants. Most of the missiles from Gaza have not been launched by Hamas forces, but Israel is holding the Islamist militant group responsible, and has started targeting Hamas positions for the first time in months.

While Gaza is still struggling to recover from the destruction of "Operation Cast Lead," the Israeli offensive that killed more than 1,400 Gazans, many observers worry that this unexpected flare-up in border violence could provoke another Israeli offensive.

On Wednesday, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor warned in an interview with Israeli Army Radio that continued rocket fire could prompt Israel to launch a new operation to quell the fresh round of missile attacks, which have been condemned by Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat.

"Had Hamas wanted to break all the rules, it would have fired rockets at Herzliya or at Ben-Gurion Airport. It possesses the means and the capability," wrote Alex Fishman in the daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot. "But Hamas does not want to break all the rules. It just wants to test the limits and while doing so, to set new game rules."

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