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Israel Threatens to Use 'Great Force' in Gaza

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates (L) shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a joint news conference in Caesarea, March 25, 2011

Tensions remain high on the Israeli border with the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip after a week of attacks from both sides.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a tough warning to the Islamic militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip.

He said Israel is “prepared to act with great force” to stop a wave of Palestinian attacks from Gaza. Dozens of rockets and mortar shells have been fired across the border over the past week, terrorizing residents of southern Israel. Israel has responded with air strikes. It is the most serious escalation of violence since the Gaza War two years ago.

Netanyahu spoke at a meeting with the United States Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, who says Israel has the right to defend itself.

“No sovereign state can tolerate having rockets fired at its people,” Gates said.

Hamas has signaled that it wants to preserve an informal cease-fire with Israel.

Hamas Foreign Minister Mohammed Awad said his government has urged all of the armed Palestinian factions not to give Israel an excuse to escalate attacks on Gaza.

Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel, so the U.S. is trying to promote peace between Israel and the more moderate Palestinian Authority that rules the West Bank. Peace talks have been suspended for most of the past two years because of a dispute over Jewish settlements, but Gates urged both sides to return to the negotiating table.

“There is a need and an opportunity for bold action to move toward a two-state solution,” he added. “And as the parties move forward, the United States stands ready to support them in any way we can.”

Gates became the first U.S. defense secretary to visit the West Bank, meeting there with Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad.

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