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.
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The escalation is a test for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who accused his predecessor Ehud Olmert of not responding forcefully enough to the hundreds of rockets from Gaza that preceded Operation Cast Lead.Skip to next paragraph
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Adding to the tension, Israeli military officials say that Gaza militants have armed themselves with Kornet missiles that can penetrate the armor of tanks.
Hamas has controlled Gaza since a violent takeover in June 2007. After declaring Gaza a "hostile" territory, Israel imposed an economic and military blockade on the strip. The economic blockade was partially relaxed following the international uproar over Israel's deadly intercept of a flotilla that challenged the blockade.
The fallout from that incident, in addition to diplomatic pressure over the stalled peace process, may give Mr. Netanyahu pause in how he deals with this recent flare-up in attacks, say analysts.
"Israel has to be very careful about how it handles Gaza," says Meir Javedanfar, a Middle East analyst based in Tel Aviv. "In light of Israel's increasing international isolation, any overreaction is going to be more difficult for Israel to gain support and sympathy from the US and European Union.''
There is a range of theories about what is behind the new violence. Those that assume Hamas has given militants more leverage to fire into Israel postulate that the organization is taking advantage of the impasse in peace negotiations.
"Their authority in Gaza will be in danger in the case of any new war with Israel," says Nashat Aqtash, a communications professor at Birzeit University near Ramallah. "People are tired over the last four years. Hamas needs to things calm down."