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Netanyahu: Israel ready to react with 'great force'

March 25, 2011 12:12 P.M. (Updated: March 27, 2011 1:14 P.M.)
CAESAREA, Israel (AFP) -- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US Defense Secretary Robert Gates 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 Gates.

"We stand ready to act with great force and great determination to put a stop to it," he added, with officials saying Israel had not been hit by any projectiles Friday morning.

"Any civilized society will not tolerate such wanton attacks on its civilians," he said.

However, as Netanyahu spoke, Defense Minister Ehud Barak toured the Gaza border with army chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, saying that the situation seemed to be calming down.

"In the last 24 hours there has been no fire into our territory, but we continue to monitor the situation," Barak said, according to a statement from his office.

And Barak indicated that if the rocket attacks stopped, Israel would also halt its strikes into the Gaza Strip.

"We don't intend to let the terror organizations again disturb the order but we will do all we need to to return the [military] activity to the border line itself," he said.

Also, Barak said, Israel will deploy its "Iron Dome" multi-million-dollar missile defense system in southern Israel for the first time next week in the wake of rocket attacks.

"I authorized the army to deploy in the next few days the first battery of "Iron Dome" for an operational trial," he said.

The deployment of the Iron Dome interceptor, designed to combat short-range rocket threats from Gaza and Lebanon, has been delayed until now with officials saying operating crews needed more training and suggestions the system was prohibitively expensive.

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 was in "turmoil."

On Thursday, he said in Tel Aviv that Washington firmly backed Israel's right to respond both to 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.

The US defense 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 meeting with Netanyahu, Gates traveled amid heavy security to the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the first such visit by a US defense chief.

Before their meeting, Fayyad told Gates it was a time of "great challenge throughout the region but also a time of opportunity, requiring a redoubling of the effort in pursuing the cause of peace, and justice and security."

Gates said he looked forward to discussing "prospects for a two-state solution".

Neither man made any statement following their roughly 45-minute meeting.

Israel's leaders have appeared reluctant to be dragged into another bloody war with Hamas, especially as they lacked international support for any new offensive on Gaza.

In the last week dozens of rockets have hit southern Israel. The vast majority of them were fired by Islamic Jihad's military wing, the Al-Quds Brigade.

Israel has responded with air strikes on Gaza.

Thursday's rocket fire on Ashdod came a day after the Al-Quds Brigades vowed to fire more at cities deep inside Israel as it entered "a new phase" of resistance.

And despite Hamas' pledge to rein in militants firing on Israel, Islamic Jihad's leadership insisted it would not stop its "resistance" unless Israel did the same.
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