Tel Aviv - Israel will expand its week-long military campaign in the Gaza Strip if Hamas refuses to accept an Egyptian ceasefire plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Tuesday.
“If Hamas doesn't accept the ceasefire proposal - and that's how it seems at this point in time - Israel will have all the international legitimacy to broaden its military activity (in Gaza) in order to achieve the necessary quiet,” he said.
He was speaking just hours after the Israeli security cabinet voted in favour of accepting an Egyptian truce proposal for a 06.00MT ceasefire that was rejected by Hamas.
But it also warned it would respond “with force” to any further rocket fire.
Speaking at a joint news conference in Tel Aviv with visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Netanyahu said Israel wanted to see “the demilitarisation” of Gaza.
“We responded positively to the Egyptian proposal to give a chance to deal with the demilitarisation of Gaza from missiles, rockets and tunnels,” he said.
But Hamas rejected the ceasefire arrangement, and militants from its armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, claimed to have fired eight rockets at the southern port city of Ashdod at around 09.00 GMT.
Police confirmed one rocket had struck a yard outside a house in the city, which is home to about 212 000 people.
“Because we were excluded from the consultations for this (truce) initiative, we are not obliged to abide by it,” said a Hamas statement received by AFP in Gaza.
Berlin's top diplomat also urged Hamas to accept Cairo's proposal.
“I request that the leaders of the Gaza Strip stick to the ceasefire,” he said.
“Gaza cannot always remain Hamas's weapons repository... (that) means damage not only for the people of Israel, but for the people in Gaza itself who are held hostage by Hamas,” he charged.