Small Israeli force enters Gaza after rocket strike

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GAZA, Sep 12 (Reuters) Israeli armoured vehicles pushed into the central Gaza Strip today a day after a rocket fired by Palestinian militants injured at least 35 Israeli soldiers at an army base, Gaza residents said.

The Israeli army confirmed some military activity near the border with the coastal enclave but declined to give details. Nineteen soldiers were still in hospital after a rocket hit a training camp for new conscripts yesterday.

The rocket attack raised pressure on Israel to crack down on the Hamas-controlled territory. One Gaza militant warned the Jewish state against a major incursion, saying dozens of Palestinians were poised to blow themselves up in retaliation.

''There are dozens of would-be martyrs who are ready to strike the Zionist enemy everywhere,'' said Abu Hamza, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, which claimed joint responsibility for yesterday's rocket attack.

''They have the green light to strike the Zionist enemy everywhere ... and they have already identified targets,'' he said, wearing a black mask and carrying an automatic rifle.

Abu Hamza said any ''foolish action'' by Israel, such as launching a major invasion of Gaza or assassinating militant leaders, would provoke ''surprises'' from the Palestinian side.

Israeli police have been on heightened alert, saying they have thwarted a planned suicide bombing that was meant to take place in the city of Be'er Sheva in coming days. A Palestinian militant from Gaza was arrested wearing an explosive belt at Israel's border with Egypt, a police spokesman said.

Gaza militants fired several rockets into southern Israel today but caused no injuries.

Last week, one makeshift rocket landed near a child-care centre, prompting calls for tougher reprisals from Israel. But the government opted to respond with ''pinpointed attacks'' rather than a major ground offensive.

Yesterday's strike on the military base has revived calls within Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's cabinet for tougher measures, including stepped up military operations and cutting off electricity to Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told a security conference late yesterday Israel did not want to punish the Palestinian population in Gaza but said ''we need to do something to stop these terrorists and Hamas''.

Israel pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005 but the Jewish state continues to control its borders, airspace and coastal waters.

Reuters RAR DB2251

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