JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Israeli troops could reoccupy parts of the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip if cross border violence escalates, a senior army general told the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on Friday.
Major-General Yoav Gallant, commander of Israel’s southern forces, said the army had stepped up an offensive against militants firing rockets into Israel since the militant Islamist group Hamas took over the Palestinian government last month.
“We’re talking about more aggressive military operations … we may need to enter the Gaza Strip for short or long periods if this escalation continues,” he told the mass circulation newspaper in an interview.
Israel completed its withdrawal of Jewish settlers and troops from Gaza last September after 38 years of occupation.
The Haaretz newspaper quoted senior army commanders as saying troops were being trained for an offensive in the Gaza Strip as part of contingency plans the army had drawn up.
But the newspaper quoted the commanders as saying such an operation was unlikely to be implemented in the near future as it could undermine international backing for Israel since Hamas took over the Palestinian government on March 29.
Israeli army chief Dan Halutz preferred airforce missile strikes against militants in Gaza as well as artillery fire on areas near the Gaza-Israel border used by militants to fire rockets into Israel, the newspaper said.
An army spokeswoman said 300 rockets had been fired into Israel since Hamas won a Jan. 25 Palestinian election compared to 100 rockets fired in the five months between September and late January. The homemade rockets cause panic but few casualties.
The Israeli army has stepped up air strikes against militants and well as artillery barrages against what it says are rocket launch sites used by militants.
The strikes on Gaza have killed 20 Palestinians, mostly militants, since the start of April. Among them was a seven-year-old girl killed when an artillery shell hit a house in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.
Haaretz quoted an army officer as saying the break in security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian security forces since Hamas’ rise to power had eliminated a mechanism for resolving problems without violence.
“There is no-longer anyone to mediate during a flare-up, neither the Egyptians nor the Americans. Consequently, they speak with Qassams (rockets) and we respond with 155mm shells,” it quoted the officer as saying.