By Adam Entous and Joseph Nasr
JERUSALEM, Feb 29 (Reuters) – Deputy Israeli Defence Minister Matan Vilnai said on Friday the Palestinians would bring on themselves what he called a ”bigger holocaust” by stepping up rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip.
”Holocaust” is a term rarely used in Israel outside discussions of the Nazi genocide during World War Two. Many Israelis are loathe to countenance using the word to describe other contemporary events.
Israeli air strikes on the coastal territory, controlled by Hamas Islamists, have killed at least 32 Palestinians, including five children, in the past two days.
Israel said it was responding to rocket fire by Gaza militants, which killed one Israeli in the southern border town of Sderot on Wednesday, and it threatened to launch a larger-scale offensive unless the barrage stopped.
”The more Qassam (rocket) fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves,” Vilnai told Army Radio.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has so far been wary of launching a major ground offensive, which could incur heavy casualties and derail U.S.-backed peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But domestic pressure is growing.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak sought to prepare the way for an offensive by sending confidential messages to world leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who plans to visit the region next week.