/ 25 March 2011

Israel ‘ready to act with great force’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said 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 United States Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

“We stand ready to act with great force and great determination to put a stop to it,” he said.

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, Gates 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.

Soaring tensions
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 talks with Netanyahu, Gates is due to head to the West Bank to meet Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad.

Defence Minister Ehud Barak warned on Thursday that the Jewish state 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 at a news conference with Gates, 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. — AFP