Israel says may escalate as Hamas joins Gaza clashes
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said it was poised to escalate attacks on the Gaza Strip on Sunday following a surge of rocket and mortar salvoes by Hamas and other Palestinian factions.
A missile strike wounded four Israeli troops on jeep patrol along the Gaza boundary on Saturday, triggering army shelling that killed four Palestinian civilians and, in turn, dozens of short-range rocket launches out of Gaza that paralyzed Israel's southern border towns.
Two Gaza militants died in the ensuing Israeli air strikes. Two workers were wounded later when a plastics factory in northern Gaza Strip caught fire after it was hit by an Israeli tank shell, emergency workers said.
Israel's Iron Dome defense system knocked out a longer-range "Grad" rocket that was aimed at the southern city of Beersheba, the army said.
Thousands of Palestinians marching in the funerals of six people killed in the past 24 hours cried: "Revenge, revenge". One man said an Israeli tank fired at children then fired on adults who rushed to the scene.
The Israeli military said the tank had shot back at the spot where shortly before militants had fired an anti-tank missile at the army patrol. "It is very unfortunate that these terrorists use their own people as human shields," said Major Arye Shalicar, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Israel went to war against Hamas in the winter of 2008-2009 but has shown little appetite for a new round that could strain fraught relations with the new Islamist-rooted government in neighboring Egypt, which made peace with Israel in 1979.
But conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be reluctant to seem weak ahead of a January 22 general election that opinion polls currently predict he will win. Continued...