Olmert Threatens 'Severest Riposte' on Hamas

Harinder Mishra , Jerusalem
Olmert Threatens 'Severest Riposte' on Hamas
Israel has threatened "the severest riposte" after a grad rocket fired by Gaza-based militants hit a residential neighbourhood in Jewish nation's southern city of Ashkelon.

The warning by the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came as Hamas militants today fired a long-range Grad rocket into Israel, targeting for the first time after ceasefire the city of Ashkelon, as leaders of the Palestinian group met in the Egyptian city of Cairo to work out a long-term truce.

"Any provocation, even the slightest, will trigger the severest riposte until this fire comes to a complete end," Olmert told mediapersons.

Olmert's warning was echoed by Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who said: "Let nobody be mistaken, there will be a response to these firings".

Mark Regev, Israel government spokesman warned that the Islamist Hamas was "playing with fire".

"Hamas is playing with fire, and if there is going to be an escalation now, Hamas has no one to blame but itself," Israel government spokesman, Regev said, adding "Hamas has acted to deliberately undermine the calm."

Three people were treated for shock, several cars were damaged and windowpanes of buildings smashed.

Buoyed by favourable opinion polls, which shows a rightward shift among Israeli public, Likud Party chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, vowed to "topple the Hamas regime" in Gaza if elected the next premier.

"When we said a few years ago that missiles will fly in the direction of Ashkelon, Tzipi Livni and Kadima mocked us," Netanyahu said.

"In recent years, Kadima's policy of blindness has brought us to where we are today. Ashkelon residents cannot trust Kadima. We need a change in policy," he said during a campaign tour of the city.

The former premier and opposition leader noted that the way to confront the rocket threat is solely through military means.

"We need to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza," Netanyahu said asserting, "The Likud led by me will act to bring down Hamas and remove the threat of missiles against the south."

It was the first rocket attack on the city since Israel unilaterally called for a ceasefire ending a 22 days offensive in Gaza last month.

The Hamas attack damaged several cars and shattered windowpanes of several houses and prompted the deputy Prime Minister Ellie Yishai and other top Israeli leaders to vow a strong retaliation as the country up for a general election.

Vowing for a strong response, deputy Prime Minister Ellie Yishai said, "It appears the defence establishment's messages were not properly understood in Gaza. If there's no calm in Ashkelon, it will be rocky in Gaza."

Israel and Hamas had declared unilateral ceasefire separately on January 18 following the 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip, that had resulted in more than 1,300 deaths on the Palestinian side.

Hamas, meanwhile, said it was in favour of a one-year truce if Israel agrees to open border crossings that Tel Aviv has kept sealed.

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