(MENAFN - Arab News) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday said troops had responded "forcefully" to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and could boost their response if a fragile truce announced on Saturday failed to hold.
"Regarding the situation in the south, the Israeli Army acted forcefully against those who try to attack us and, if necessary, the army will act more forcefully still," Netanyahu warned at the start of a cabinet meeting.
"Our policy is to use force to restore security and calm to the residents of the south," he added.
Netanyahu spoke as a fragile second attempt at a truce between Israel and armed groups in Gaza appeared to be taking hold, with the military saying no rockets had been fired from the Palestinian territory since the cease-fire began at midnight Saturday.
A previous truce, announced on Wednesday, had begun to unravel in recent days, with Gaza rulers Hamas threatening to call it off altogether, as Palestinian officials said three people were killed and dozens wounded in seven Israeli airstrikes on Saturday.
An Israeli Army spokeswoman said that by Saturday evening 28 rockets had slammed into southern Israel that day and on Friday, with another 10 brought down by the Iron Dome air defense system.
The current round of Israeli attacks and Palestinian retaliation began with air strikes on Monday morning, just hours after gunmen from Sinai carried out an ambush along Israel's southern border with Egypt, killing an Israeli civilian.
Israel has said its sudden spike in Gaza operations was "in no way related" to the Sinai border incident, with the military saying the air force was targeting militants poised to attack the Jewish state.
Since Monday, 15 Palestinians have been killed and several dozen others have been wounded, most of them militants, in multiple Israeli airstrikes.
At least 152 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired into Israel from Gaza, wounding five Israelis including four border policemen.
Earlier, Gaza's Hamas rulers said they were ready for a fresh bid to rein in cross-border fighting with Israel, after medics said three Palestinians were killed in air raids Saturday.
Hamas and "the Palestinian resistance factions will respect the truce as long as the (forces) of the occupation do the same, and that's what we told our Egyptian brothers who demanded that we cease fire," a Hamas leader, Ayman Taha, told AFP.
"The Egyptians have demanded that the (forces) of the occupation stop their aggression and have informed us that they are prepared to do so," he added.
"We told them that we shall respond to calm with calm; if the occupier stops (its attacks), there will be no further retaliation by the resistance factions."
Netanyahu's office declined to comment but local media said neither side wanted an escalation, with Russian President Vladimir Putin due to start a rare visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories yesterday.
At a Saturday night meeting of the Revolutionary Council of his Fatah party Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned "Israeli aggression" against Gaza and called for "a permanent return to calm."