Netanyahu Says Israel May Broaden Gaza Military Operation Amid Rocket Fire

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the army may expand operations in the Gaza Strip after Palestinians fired more than 160 rockets over the border and Israeli air strikes killed at least 22 Gaza residents.

“Whoever intends to harm our citizens, we will strike at him,” Netanyahu today told the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. The military “is ready to expand its operations and continue them as necessary.”

In New York, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined other members of the so-called Mideast Quartet in expressing “serious concern” about the recent escalation. The group -- composed of the U.S., United Nations, Russia and the European Union -- called on Israel and the Palestinians to “refrain from provocative actions” and “remain engaged” in the peace process, according to a five-sentence statement following a meeting at the UN.

This month’s bloodshed began with a March 9 Israeli air strike on what the army said were two militants planning an attack from the Egyptian-controlled Sinai, including Zuhir al- Qaisi, head of the Popular Resistance Committees. The fighting has been the worst since August, when eight Israelis were killed in an attack near the resort of Eilat and at least 24 Palestinians died in subsequent air strikes.

Israeli Air Strikes

Air strikes on the Hamas-controlled territory killed at least four Palestinians in the past 24 hours. Gaza health official Adham Abu Selmeya told reporters that two militants and three civilians were killed and 45 people injured. Israel disputed its involvement in the death of one of those killed, saying its aircraft weren’t active in the area where it was reported. The air force targeted a number of militants, rocket- launching sites and weapons storage facilities, the army said in an e-mailed statement.

Many of those who died in Gaza were members of Islamic Jihad, a small, militant group supported by Iran and considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union. Israel said it holds Hamas, which rules Gaza, responsible for all attacks emanating from the territory.

At least 40 rockets fired from Gaza struck Israel, with no injuries reported, Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Four people have been wounded by about 160 rockets since March 9, Rosenfeld said. Palestinian rockets also hit two vehicles delivering goods to Gaza at a border crossing point, Israeli officials said.

Financial Markets

Israel’s short-term government bonds rose, pushing yields lower for the first time in eight days, as demand for the country’s safer assets increased amid violence in the south.

The yield on the 3.5 percent notes due September 2013 fell nine basis points, or 0.09 percentage point, to 2.63 percent, the lowest since Feb. 29, at the 4:30 p.m. close in Tel Aviv. The yield on the 5.5 percent notes retreated three basis points to 4.71 percent. The TA-25 benchmark stock index dropped the most in almost one week, declining 1.1 percent.

In 2008, Israel entered Gaza during a three-week operation in which at least 1,100 Palestinians and 12 Israelis were killed.

“Hamas doesn’t want to repeat what happened in the 2008 war, because it knows very well that another large-scale Israeli war on Gaza would damage its presence and it may lose power,” Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City, said in a telephone interview. “Now Islamic Jihad leads the resistance and considers itself the pioneer armed wing.”

Schools Closes

Taher Nunu, a Hamas spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday that his movement “is holding contacts with various parties, including our Egyptian brothers, to end the Israeli aggression upon our people.”

Schools in Israel’s southern towns and cities were ordered to stay closed for a second day, affecting some 250,000 students, Rosenfeld said. Israel decided to reopen its Kerem Shalom crossing to Gaza after shutting it briefly when it came under fire from three mortars from the Palestinian side of the border, according to Guy Inbar, a Defense Ministry spokesman.

“Islamic Jihad wants to be able to claim an achievement in hurting Israel, but we’ve managed to limit the damage and hurt them more,” said Ephraim Kam, deputy director of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security (NSX) Studies. “They aren’t big enough to sustain a long campaign by themselves.”

‘Blatant Provocation’

Palestinian leaders in the West Bank condemned Israel’s assault on Gaza. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, called Israel’s killing of Palestinians in Gaza “a blatant provocation in violation of international and humanitarian law.”

Netanyahu pledged to boost civilian defense with more Iron Dome anti-missile systems, which have shot down at least 44 rockets in the current round of violence, the army said.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s parliament demanded that the government expel Israel’s ambassador and recall Egypt’s envoy from Tel Aviv to protest against the attacks on Gaza, the state-run Middle East news agency reported. The assembly also called for an immediate end to natural gas exports to Israel, the Cairo-based news agency reported.

To contact the reporters on this story: Saud Abu Ramadan in Gaza at sramadan@bloomberg.net; Jonathan Ferziger in Tel Aviv at jferziger@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net

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