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Monday June 30, 2014 MYT 9:51:57 PM
Monday June 30, 2014 MYT 9:53:40 PM
by jeffrey heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hamas on Monday of involvement, for the first time since a Gaza war in 2012, in rocket attacks on Israel and threatened to step up military action to stop the strikes.
Netanyahu, addressing a parliamentary committee on a day when the Israeli military said 14 rockets launched from the Gaza Strip struck Israel, cautioned Hamas, the most powerful militant movement in the Palestinian enclave, to halt the attacks.
No group has claimed responsibility for Monday's rockets, which caused no casualties but damaged two homes, or for salvoes launched over the past several months in flare-ups that have included Israeli air strikes.
"Yesterday, we hit a Hamas squad that planned to fire rockets into our territory," Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks, without providing further details.
The armed wing of Hamas said the one of its men was killed by Israeli fire late on Sunday and two others were wounded, at one of a series of observation points in the Gaza Strip where Israeli military movements near the border are monitored.
Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that halted eight days of fighting in November 2012 between Israel and militant groups.
Israeli officials had acknowledged that Hamas had held its rocket fire during a series of flare-ups since the brief war ended, and they blamed such attacks on other militant movements while demanding the ruling Islamist group rein them in.
"I want to make it as clear as possible, if the quiet that was achieved after 'Pillar of Defence' is violated, if this firing continues, there are two possibilities," Netanyahu said, using Israel's name for the 2012 conflict.
"Either Hamas stops it - it is responsible for what happens on the ground - or we will," he said.
WEST BANK SWEEP
Netanyahu has also accused two Hamas members of kidnapping three Israeli teenagers who went missing while hitchhiking near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank on June 12.
Israel has yet to find either the alleged abductors or the youths. Hamas has neither confirmed nor denied involvement.
After the three teens disappeared, Israeli forces mounted, and have since sharply scaled back, a sweep through Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank in which dozens of Hamas members were detained.
Since the start of the Israeli operation in the West Bank, some 40 rockets have been fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, the military said.
Netanyahu has urged Abbas to abandon a reconciliation pact he sealed with Hamas in April, an agreement that led to the creation on June 2 of a unity government of technocrats.
Hamas has called for Israel’s destruction, although various officials have at times indicated a willingness to negotiate a long-term ceasefire.
The United States and the European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist group and shun contact with it, citing its refusal to recognise Israel, renounce violence or accept existing Israeli-Palestinian interim peace agreements.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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