Israel PM warns cabinet to 'act responsibly' over Gaza

AFP , Sunday 6 Jul 2014

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged his cabinet on Sunday to keep a cool head about how to handle growing tensions in and around the Gaza Strip.

"Experience has proved that at moments like this, we have to act responsibly and with a cool head and not with harsh words and impetuousness," he told ministers, who are fiercely divided over how to respond to mounting militant rocket fire on southern Israel.

Tensions with Gaza began in mid June after Israel began a major crackdown on the occupied West Bank to find militants behind the kidnap of three Israeli teenagers, whose bodies were found last week.

But, despite 135 rockets hitting Israel over the past 24 days, and another 21 intercepted by the Iron Dome air defence system, Israel's response has been largely restrained.

There have been almost nightly air strikes but most of the targets have been open fields used for training and only three militants have been killed, prompting calls from cabinet hardliners for a much tougher approach.

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the far-right Jewish Home party, has called for fierce action against Gaza, the stronghold of Hamas, whom Israel has blamed for the kidnap and murder of the three teenagers.

"Restraint in the face of the execution of three boys is weakness," he was quoted as saying in the top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper after a weekend in which rocket fire was directed at the southern Israeli city of Beersheva.

"We need to respond to fire on Beersheva precisely as we would respond to fire on Tel Aviv... The statement ought to be clear -- zero missiles on Israeli cities."

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has called for a full reoccupation of the Gaza Strip, also wants Israel to carry out a major operation against the territory.

"We have to destroy the terrorist infrastructure and the missile production factories," he was quoted as saying.

But Justice Minister Tzipi Livni hit back with a rebuke.

"Israel won't let the extremists and those with hot tempers dictate the tone to it, including ministers in the cabinet who need to come to terms with the fact that speaking tempestuously in public is no substitute for level-headed thinking," she said.

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