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Israel ready to react with 'great force': Netanyahu
By Dan de Luce (AFP)
CAESAREA, Israel — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Friday that Israel is ready to act with "great force" in response to a spate of rocket fire by Gaza militants and a deadly bus bombing in Jerusalem.
Israel had been "subjected to bouts of terror and rocket attacks," Netanyahu told reporters before going into a meeting with Gates.
"We stand ready to act with great force and great determination to put a stop to it," he added, with police saying Israel had not been hit by any projectiles Friday morning.
Netanyahu said he had received a "very warm" telephone call from US President Barack Obama on Thursday expressing his condolences after the latest flare-up in violence.
"Any civilised society will not tolerate such wanton attacks on its civilians," he said.
Gates, a former CIA director with years of experience in Washington, said US-Israel security ties were as strong as they had ever been at a time when the region is in "turmoil."
On Thursday, he said in Tel Aviv that Washington firmly backed Israel's right to respond to the both the rocket fire and the Jerusalem bombing, which he described as "repugnant acts."
But he suggested Israel should tread carefully or risk derailing the course of popular unrest sweeping Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East.
The US defence chief is pressing Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take "bold action" for peace despite soaring tensions, saying political upheaval in the region offered an opportunity.
After his meeting with Netanyahu, Gates travelled amid heavy security to the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, the first such visit by a US defence chief.
Before their meeting, Fayyad told Gates it was a time of "great challenge throughout the region but also a time of opportunity, requiring a redoubling of the effort in pursuing the cause of peace, and justice and security."
Gates said he looked forward to discussing "prospects for a two-state solution."
Neither man made any statement following their roughly 45-minute meeting.
Israel's leaders have appeared reluctant to be dragged into another bloody war with Hamas, especially as they lacked international support for any new offensive on Gaza.
Several regional powers have already urged Israel to show restraint amid fears in some quarters that Netanyahu would order another ground invasion of Gaza.
And speaking to reporters Thursday night, a senior Israeli official said: "We have already given Hamas some heavy blows in recent days but there will not be a hasty response. We will not proceed without carefully considering our options."
Defence Minister Ehud Barak had said earlier that Israel had no choice but to respond a day after the bombing in Jerusalem and as Gaza militants rained rockets on southern Israel.
"We have to respond," Barak said, shortly after two Grad rockets slammed into the southern port city of Ashdod.
"Israel will not tolerate these terrorist attacks and we will not allow terror to rise once again," Barak said.
Hours later, Israeli aircraft attacked four targets in the Gaza Strip, lightly wounding three people, Palestinian security sources and witnesses said.
No one was wounded in the Grad attacks, which came a day after a bomb ripped through a crowded bus stop in Jerusalem, killing a British tourist and wounding more than 30 people, in the first such attack in the Holy City since 2004.
Since the weekend, dozens of rockets have hit southern Israel. The vast majority of them were fired by Islamic Jihad's military wing the Al-Quds Brigade.
Thursday's rocket fire on Ashdod came a day after the Al-Quds Brigades vowed to fire more at cities deep inside Israel as it entered "a new phase" of resistance.
"The Al-Quds Brigade has entered a new phase of bombing targets which are further away, where thousands of Israelis live," spokesman Abu Ahmad told AFP on Wednesday.
And despite Hamas's pledge to rein in militants firing on Israel, Islamic Jihad's leadership insisted it would not stop its "resistance" unless Israel did the same.