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Israel on Sunday said it was taking the threats of Osama bin Laden seriously, a day after the Al-Qaida leader vowed to expand his terror group's holy war to Israel.

Most of the 56-minute audiotape tape released Saturday dealt with Iraq, but bin Laden also offered an unusually direct attack on Israel, threatening "blood for blood, destruction for destruction."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, said Al-Qaida operatives have been inching closer to Israel in recent years, and Israel is aware of the danger.

"Israel takes bin Laden's threats seriously. We have seen Al-Qaida activity to the north of Israel, in Lebanon, to the east of Israel, in Jordan, and to the south of Israel, in Sinai," he said.

"There is also evidence of Al-Qaida activities in the Palestinian territories. As a result, we will be irresponsible not to take this rhetoric seriously," he continued.

Palestinians deny that Al-Qaida operatives operate in their territories.

In the tape, Bin Laden rails against those seeking normalization with Israel.

"I would like to assure our people in Palestine that we will expand our jihad there," he said. "We intend to liberate Palestine, the whole of Palestine from the (Jordan) river to the (Mediterranean) sea, he said. We will not recognize even one inch for Jews in the land of Palestine, as other Muslim leaders have," bin Laden said.

Bin Laden warns Iraqi Sunnis against part in unity government

In the tape, Bin Laden warned Iraq's Sunni Arabs against joining tribal councils fighting Al-Qaida or participating in any unity government.

A number of Sunni Arab tribes in Iraq's western Anbar province have formed a coalition fighting Al-Qaida-linked insurgents that U.S. officials credit for deeply reducing violence in the province. The U.S. military has been working to form similar Awakening Councils in other areas of Iraq.

In the audiotape, bin Laden denounced Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha, the former leader of the Anbar Awakening Council, who was killed in a September bombing claimed by Al-Qaida.

"The most evil of the traitors are those who trade away their religion for the sake of their mortal life," bin Laden said.

Bin Laden said U.S. and Iraqi officials are seeking to set up a national unity government joining the country's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

"Our duty is to foil these dangerous schemes, which try to prevent the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq, which would be a wall of resistance against American schemes to divide Iraq," he said.

The authenticity of the tape could not be independently confirmed. But the voice resembled that of bin Laden. The tape was posted on an Islamic militant Web site where Al-Qaida's media arm, Al-Sahab, issues the group's messages.

The tape was the fifth message released by bin Laden this year, a flurry of activity after he went more than a year without issuing any tapes. The messages began with a September 8 video that showed bin Laden for the first time in nearly three years. The other messages this year have been audiotapes.

In an October tape, bin Laden sought to patch up splits between Iraqi insurgent factions, urging them to unite with the Islamic State of Iraq - the insurgent coalition led by Al-Qaida. He took a conciliatory stance, chiding even Al-Qaida's followers for being too extremist in their positions toward other insurgents.

Bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahri took a sharper tone in a December 16 video, branding as traitors those who work with the anti-Qaida tribal councils and calling for Sunnis to purge anyone cooperating with the Americans.