Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Don’t test us, Israel army chief warns Gaza militants

JERUSALEM — Israel’s top military chief has warned Gaza militants not to “test” Israel’s strength as troops and police were on Wednesday on high alert over warnings of a planned attack from Sinai.

“Hamas and other terrorist organisations in Gaza must know that they are wrong to test our strength and that any attempt to harm the citizens of Israel will result in a severe response,” Gantz said in remarks which were released by the army on Wednesday.

“We must be prepared for any threat.”

Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet internal security service now an opposition MP, said that by using Egyptian territory to stage attacks, Hamas and other Gaza militants were seeking to retain a role in Palestinian political efforts to win statehood, without taking the responsibility.

“The moment that the terror organisations in the strip understood that terror activity from Gaza directly at Israel makes the campaign they plan for September in the UN assembly very difficult, the alternative is a bypass...from Gaza to Sinai and from Sinai into Israel,” he told Israeli public radio.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and his West Bank-based Palestinian Authority are to request membership of the United Nations on September 20 when world leaders begin gathering in New York for the 66th session of the General Assembly.

“Hamas has no small desire to try to follow the Palestinian Authority line and gain a bit of legitimacy,” Dichter said. “It seems that their solution is by attacks though Sinai which involves the Egyptians and absolves Hamas, in their opinion, of responsibility for any attacks.”

Gantz on Sunday raised the level of alert along the Israeli-Egyptian border and around the Gaza Strip, beefing up the number of troops in both areas over specific intelligence warnings that militants were planning a fresh attack on southern Israel.

“The defence establishment has received a warning that a terror cell in Sinai, comprised of more than 10 terrorists, is going to try and carry out an attack,” Home Front Defence Minister Matan Vilnai told Israeli reporters on Tuesday.

“Jihad has been trying to launch attacks from Sinai for a long time,” he said.

On August 18, a group of gunmen crossed the Egyptian border and killed eight Israelis on route 12, a desert road which flanks the frontier just north of the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

The deadly attacks, which Israel blamed on Gaza militants, sparked a week of bloody clashes, with the air force staging multiple air strikes on Gaza killing 27 people, and militants there lobbing over 150 rockets over the border, killing one Israeli.

Militants in Gaza have so far held to a weekend truce agreement, although Israeli press reports speculated they were planning a fresh attack to avenge the deaths of those killed in the air strikes.

Officials shut down route 12 as well as another road which skirts the Egyptian border, and the military was also preparing for the possibility militants could fire rockets from Sinai towards Eilat, the Haaretz newspaper reported.

In a separate development, the navy on Tuesday deployed two missile boats just outside Eilat in what the military said was part of a “routine exercise.”

Israeli press reports said it was unlikely that the boats’ deployment was linked to the high state of alert in the south, but it came as Tehran’s top naval commander said Iran had dispatched a submarine and a warship to the Red Sea on a “patrol mission,” state television reported.



Don’t test us, Israel army chief warns Gaza militants