ISRAEL has put its neighbours on notice that it will “hit with great force” anyone who fires at it.

The warning comes with Israel apparently anticipating a new round of attacks from both its north and south.

In a clear attempt to discourage Hamas militants based in Gaza from entering Egypt to fire rockets from there, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, issued a strong warning that Hamas would be held responsible for further rocket attacks from Egypt.

He also warned the Lebanese government, following this week’s firing on Israeli soldiers, that “Israel responds and will continue to respond forcibly to every attack against its citizens and soldiers”.

The warning reflects a growing view in Israel that coming months are likely to see an escalation in attacks against Israel – Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Hezbollah, which has a powerful presence in the government of Lebanon to the north, both oppose any peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

While Hamas has not claimed responsibility for firing five rockets towards Israel and Jordan on Monday, Mr Netanyahu said Israel had established “beyond any doubt” that Hamas was behind the rockets.

His view was supported by security sources quoted in Egyptian media.

It is expected that as direct talks may begin in coming weeks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and Hezbollah will try to sabotage the process by provoking a new war.

“We will reach, and hit with great force, anyone who shoots at Israeli citizens, no matter from where,” Mr Netanyahu said.

“I want it to be clear to Hamas, as well as to the Lebanese government, which we hold responsible for the violent provocations against our soldiers: do not test our determination to protect Israeli citizens and soldiers.”

His words followed a finding by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon that Israeli soldiers had been on their territory when Lebanese soldiers fired at them on Tuesday.

Lebanon initially claimed the Israelis had entered Lebanese territory. Lebanon also admitted yesterday that it had fired first.

As the US State Department described the firing by Lebanese soldiers as “wholly unjustified”, Mr Netanyahu called for international condemnation.

“For years many in the international community have remained silent when rockets have been fired at Israeli civilians and when unprovoked attacks have been launched against our soldiers,” he said. “Expressions of outrage have largely been reserved for Israel’s response to those attacks. Firing missiles on civilians is a war crime, and unprovoked attacks on soldiers are blatant acts of aggression.”

Yesterday, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon brought together Israeli and Lebanese commanders to try to reduce tension. A UNIFIL commander said later: “Both parties renewed their commitment to the cessation of hostilities.”

Meanwhile, the organiser of the May flotilla to Gaza which was intercepted by Israeli commandos announced yesterday theywere planning an even larger flotilla. Musician and activist Dror Feiler told AFP: “We’ll set off before the end of 2010 and we are sure the flotilla will be bigger, with more vessels.”

Israel has agreed to join a UN investigation into the flotilla incident.

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