Netanyahu: Israel Is Prepared to Step Up Fighting Against Gaza if Rockets Continue

Prime Minister Netanyahu says Israel's defensive capabilities have improved; UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Hillary Clinton, Quartet call on sides to exercise restraint.

Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israeli is prepared to step up its activities in the Gaza Strip if rocket fire continues.

Speaking in the morning at a Likud faction meeting, the Prime Minister said, "The Israel Defense Forces is prepared to expand its activities [in the Gaza Strip] as much as is necessary."

Netanyahu - Assayag - 12.3.2012
Ilan Assayag

"The army continues to forcefully and aggressively attack the terrorists in Gaza. We will hit anyone who aims to harm our citizens,"he added.

"The winning combination is decisive means of attack, IDF actions, hitting terrorists wherever they are and important means of defense – and of course the fortitude of the citizens in the south," he added.

"The combination of the attack, the defense and the fortitude of the citizens enables us to strike terror accurately and painfully," he said.

Meanwhile, the Middle East quartet issued a statement raising concern over the "grave situation in Gaza and southern Israel and expressed serious concern for the recent escalation and called for calm."

"The quartet reiterates its call on the parties to remain engaged and to refrain from provocative actions," it said.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also condemned rocket fire from the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip into southern Israel and called on all sides to try to restore calm.

"Let me also condemn in the strongest terms the rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, which continued over the weekend," Clinton said during an appearance on Monday before the UN Security Council. "We call on those responsible to take immediate action to stop these attacks. We call on both sides - all sides - to make every effort to restore calm," Clinton said.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday he was extremely worried by a recent flare-up in violence between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

"I am gravely concerned at the latest escalation between Gaza and Israel and once again civilians are paying a terrible price," Ban told the UN Security Council. He said rocket attacks on Israeli civilians were "unacceptable" and urged Israel to "exercise maximum restraint."

Labor faction chairman Isaac Herzog on Monday also expressed support for the decision to assassinate Zuhir al-Qaisi, the Popular Resistance Committee leader, on Friday, which ignited the current flare-up. "We hope that the current round of violence will end soon," he added.

Netanyahu expressed similar sentiments on Sunday at a meeting with the heads of local authorities in Ashdod. "I came to identify with the residents and with you, and to express my deep appreciation for the IDF and the Shin Bet," Netanyahu said.

"The IDF is landing a heavy blow against terror organizations. Our ability to defend ourselves has improved, and the Iron Dome's performance is very impressive, but we will never reach maximum defense," the prime minister told the local leaders.

The violence, which flared on Friday, has been following a familiar pattern in which militants launch rocket attacks and Israel carries out air raids in the Hamas-controlled enclave.

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