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Israel carries out Gaza Strip airstrikes as foreign minister hints at reoccupation

An Israeli man looks at a burnt car parked beside a paint factory in the southern Israeli town of Sderot June 29.


Israel carried out airstrikes on militant targets in the Gaza Strip early Sunday after a rocket attack, the military said, as the country's foreign minister suggested it consider reoccupying the Hamas-ruled territory to stop the increasing rocket fire.

There has been an increase in rockets launched from the Hamas-ruled territory toward Israel this month, as the army has carried out a wide-ranging operation against Hamas in the West Bank while searching for three Israeli teens who Israel says were abducted by the Palestinian militant group.

The military said it targeted 12 locations in Gaza on Sunday, including concealed rocket launchers, weapons manufacturing sites and what it called "terror activity" sites. The airstrikes were in retaliation for six rockets from Gaza that struck Israel the previous evening. Two of the rockets hit a factory in the town of Sderot, setting it ablaze.

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Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said limited operations against militants in Gaza only strengthen Hamas.

"The alternative is clear," Lieberman said on Army Radio. "Either with each round we attack terror infrastructure and they shoot, or we go to full occupation."

Israel unilaterally pulled out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, but continues to control access to the territory by air, land and sea. Israeli leaders have said the pullout cleared the way for Hamas to seize control of the territory two years later and turn it into a base for rocket attacks on Israel, but there has been little support for reoccupying the territory.

On Friday, an Israeli airstrike killed two Palestinian militants in Gaza who were members of the Tawhid Brigades, an ultraconservative Islamic militant group unaffiliated with Hamas, according to Palestinian security officials and militants from the group. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters and the militants because they operate underground.

The security officials had initially said the two fighters were members of a militant group allied with Hamas that often fires rockets at Israel.

Since the beginning of June, over 60 rockets have been launched from Gaza toward Israel — more than four times the amount in May — and 28 of the rockets hit Israeli territory, the military said. The crude, makeshift devices rarely wound anyone, but they have caused damage and sown panic in communities along the frontier.

Also on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he has asked Israeli authorities to consider outlawing a Muslim group in Israel, following calls in support of abducting Israeli soldiers at a demonstration in an Arab-Israeli town.

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"In many cases, those behind such calls and demonstrations are from the northern branch of the Islamic Movement," Netanyahu said. "It constantly preaches against the state of Israel and its people publicly identify with terrorist organizations such as Hamas."

Israel has arrested the movement's leader, Raed Salah, on a number of occasions, banning him from Jerusalem and accusing him of incitement. Salah has called for a third intifada, or Palestinian uprising, against Israel.

In 2003, Israel jailed Salah, an Israeli citizen, for more than two years, saying his organization funneled money to Hamas, which at the time was frequently carrying out deadly suicide bombings in Israel.

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