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Netanyahu Vists Gaza Border Town       07/16 06:19

   JERUSALEM (AP) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited a southern 
Israeli town bordering Gaza on Monday that was pummeled with rockets over the 
weekend from the strip and told community leaders there that Israel is engaged 
in a "lengthy battle."

   Netanyahu's visit to Sderot comes a day after an informal cease-fire took 
hold to end 24 hours of intense fighting with Gaza's Hamas militants that had 
threatened to devolve into all-out war.

   Israel pounded Hamas targets in its most massive bombardment since the 2014 
war, while militants fired dozens of rockets toward Israel that halted daily 
life in the area. Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an Israeli airstrike 
in Gaza City, while four Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a 
residential home in Sderot.

   Netanyahu visited a local kindergarten and pledged that Israel would put an 
end to the rocket fire and a Gaza militant campaign of sending incendiary kites 
and balloons across the border that have ignited fires damaging Israeli farms 
and nature reserves.

   Hamas will face a "wall of steel" if it keeps up its aggression against 
Israel, Netanyahu warned, adding however that the threat won't disappear 
overnight.

   "It doesn't end in one strike," Netanyahu said. "We know we are engaged in a 
lengthy battle."

   On Saturday, the Israeli military struck several Hamas military compounds 
and flattened a number of its training camps. Hamas retaliated with more than 
200 rockets and mortars toward Israeli communities.

   After Hamas accepted an Egypt-mediated cease-fire late Saturday, the 
situation calmed down but flaming kites and balloons continued to waft over 
into Israel, with the military signaling a new policy of striking back 
immediately.

   The government is under pressure from local communities to show zero 
tolerance to this new threat, and Netanyahu told local leaders he has 
instructed the military to halt it completely.

   "There is no such thing as a cease-fire that does not include the flaming 
kites and balloons," he said. "If this is not understood through my words, it 
will be understood through the military's actions."

   On Sunday evening, the military announced that following a "situation 
assessment" it reinforced its Iron Dome batteries in central Israel and in the 
country's south and called up a small number of reserve army soldiers. The Iron 
Dome shot down more than 20 projectiles over the weekend.

   With Israel focused on efforts to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent 
military foothold in neighboring Syria, it has been wary of escalating violence 
in Gaza. But the extensive offensive appeared aimed at signaling to Hamas that 
it was unafraid to engage if necessary.

   The flare-up came after months of near-weekly border demonstrations 
organized by Hamas to protest the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza. Over 130 
Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began on March 
30.

   Israel says it is defending its sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using 
the protests as cover for attempts to breach the border fence and attack 
Israeli civilians and soldiers.


(KA)

 
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