Israel prepares diplomatic ground for Gaza strikes

Israel has launched a diplomatic campaign to gather international support for a major offensive on Hamas-ruled Gaza following the expiry of a truce with the Islamists, officials said on Monday.

In a letter to United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon, Israel envoy to the UN Gabriela Shalev said the Jewish state would respond to continuing rocket fire, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of the main governing Kadima party, has ordered Israeli ambassadors around the world to emphasise that Israel “will not hesitate to react militarily if necessary” to protect its citizens.

She is also due to meet foreign ambassadors to Israel and speak with her counterparts abroad.

“The world must understand that the situation in southern Israel is intolerable for hundreds of thousands of citizens exposed to rocket fire,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said.

“We cannot remain with our arms crossed. Either the international community intervenes or we will have to act,” he said.

The public relations effort came a day after Israel threatened a major offensive against the impoverished territory that has been ruled by Hamas since June last year.

The two frontrunners in the race to become prime minister after a snap election in February—Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads the opposition Likud party currently leading in the polls—both vowed to oust the Islamist movement, sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction.

“Israel must topple the Hamas rule in Gaza and a government under my command will do just that,” Livni said.

Hamas rulers on Monday, meanwhile, threatened to resume suicide attacks in Israel should Israel launch a large-scale military operation.

“It is our right as an occupied people to defend ourselves from the occupation by all means possible including suicide attacks,” Ayman Taha, a Hamas leader, said.

Violence around the enclave has steadily escalated since Friday, when Hamas said it would not renew a six-month truce with Israel, which came into effect after months of Egyptian mediation.

Since then, the army has carried out several air strikes, killing one militant and wounding several Palestinians, and militants have launched several dozen rockets into the Jewish state, wounding a handful of people.

Despite the bellicose rhetoric, observers say the Israeli government is wary of launching a major offensive less than two months before the general election for fear it would not be able to score a decisive victory against Hamas.

“The politicians aren’t in any rush to reach election day with an incomplete military operation and only partial results hanging around their necks,” wrote military analyst Alex Fishman in top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot on Sunday.

Israel responded to violence that erupted around Gaza in early November by tightening its blockade of the territory and halting deliveries of humanitarian aid and other basic supplies.

The overcrowded and aid-dependent land of about 1,5-million people has been subject to Israeli blockades and repeated raids since 2006, when Hamas won parliamentary elections and later joined in a deadly cross-border raid that saw militants capture an Israeli soldier.—AFP

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