Israel will retaliate against any attack on its citizens or soldiers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, adding that Hamas would be made to be held accountable for actions.
The prime minister's comments come following the death of two soldiers in Gaza clashes on Friday, which increased concern in the Israel Defense Forces that Hamas is trying to alter the situation along the Gaza Strip border fence, which will result in their targeting of Israeli patrols.
"Israel's policy of retaliation is forceful and decisive," the PM said during the weekly government meeting in Jerusalem, asserting that Israel would "retaliate decisively against any attack on our citizens and soldiers."
"This policy is well-known and will continue. Hamas and the other terror organizations need to know that they are the ones that are responsible for their own actions," Netanyahu said.
A statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office on Sunday also referred to recent anonymous quotes reportedly originating from Netanyahu aides attacking U.S. President Barack Obama's policy in the Middle East.
"The prime minister emphatically rejects the anonymous quotes about President Obama that a newspaper attributed to one of his confidants, and he condemns them," the statement said.
Netanyahu was at pains to hammer home the message, telling reporters at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting: "I have heard over recent days anonymous and improper remarks in the media about the U.S. administration and American president."
"I want to say clearly, these comments are unacceptable to me. They do not come from anyone representing me. The relations between Israel and the United States are those of allies and friends, and are based on tradition spanning many years."
On the stalled peace talks with the Palestinian Authority the PM said that Israel continued to see a "Palestinian lack of flexibility. There are no signs of them becoming more moderate."
"I don't expect the discussions and declarations in the Arab League will make the process any easier," Netanyahu added, saying that nonetheless Israel would "maintain a restrained framework for negotiations and continue our dealings with the American administration in an attempt to renew talks."
Netanyahu's statement came after Likud Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio earlier Sunday that Israel would reoccupy Gaza if it felt it had no other choice.
Finance Minister Steinitz said that Israel must deal with Hamas, and may have to reenter Gaza to destroy the regime.
"Israel won't allow Hamas to arm with long-range missiles," Steinitz said.
Major Eliraz Peretz and Staff Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky were killed Friday while pursuing a group of Palestinian militants trying to lay mines near the border fence. Two other soldiers were wounded in the incident, and two militants were killed.
Any change along the fence may present Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government with the first military challenge of its tenure. For the past year the situation has been calm, in great part as a result of the two wars conducted by the Olmert government: the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead.
Intelligence sources in Israel have recently raised the question whether Hamas was turning a blind eye to the rocket attacks, a possible change of tactics. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Channel 2 on Saturday that Hamas is trying to change the "rules of the game" in Gaza, and will have to pay the price for this.
Spokesmen on behalf of Hamas claimed Friday evening that their gunmen acted defensively after an IDF force entered their area. In this they hinted that there was no change in policy from the point of view of Hamas. Responsibility for the incident was also claimed by three smaller factions in the Gaza Strip, including Islamic Jihad.
It is possible that Hamas was involved in the incident, in the mortar fire that was used to support the Palestinian gunmen during the exchanges of fire.
The incident comes at a convenient time for Hamas, on the eve of the Arab League summit, but for Netanyahu the timing is terrible, with pressure from the Americans and the international community on the need to alleviate the Israeli siege on the Strip.
In the interivew with Israel Radio, Steinitz also slammed the U.S. administration, saying the pressure it is putting on Israel is just worsening the situation.
"American pressure isn't conductive and isn't fair, because the Netanyahu government made two enormous gestures toward the Palestinians: The opportunity to improve the Palestinian economy, and the settlement freeze," he said.
"The United States needs to understand that the atmosphere it created in the Middle East, that Washington is now less friendly to Israel, isn't making the Palestinians more willing to compromise, it further adds to their rejection of the peace process."
Stenitiz also stressed that it is necessary to make it clear to the Americans that they must focus on solutions to the Iranian nuclear threat.
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