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Israel warns Hamas against escalating conflict

Israeli officials on Thursday warned the Islamist Hamas against escalating conflict as a series of Gaza border clashes and a bus bomb threatened to send violence spiralling out of control.

“Israel is not interested in an escalation and if there is one it will be the work of Hamas,” said a senior Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity.

A woman was killed and more than 30 people wounded when a bomb ripped through a bus in Jerusalem on Wednesday, hours after militants vowed revenge for two deadly Israeli raids on Gaza.

The bombing also came several hours after two Grad rockets fired by Gaza militants hit the southern city of Beersheva.

Senior officials said that Israel’s intelligence agencies were investigating whether Hamas was behind the bombing and whether it was linked to the recent upsurge in violence in the Gaza Strip.

If it was discovered that Hamas dispatched a cell to carry out the Jerusalem attack in response to the Gaza violence, Israel would view that as a real escalation, the officials said.

And even though the rocket attacks were claimed by other groups, like the radical Islamic Jihad, Israel said it held Hamas responsible for any violence emanating from Gaza.

“Hamas cannot subcontract out terrorism and then evade responsibility,” the official said. “They are very much in control of the Gaza Strip and they are responsible for all violence from Gaza.”

Before departing for Russia Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that anyone who attacks Israel will learn it has an “iron will.”

“There are those who… are trying to test our will and our determination, and they will discover that this government and the army and the Israeli people have an iron will to defend the country,” Netanyahu told reporters as he stood on the tarmac before boarding his flight.

Later Thursday Netanyahu was to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

An Israeli official in Moscow said Netanyahu would make the bus bombing the focus of his meetings, with other topics suggested by Russia such as the Middle East peace process taking a secondary role.

Russia called the bombing a “barbaric act of terror” that must not be allowed to destabilise the Middle East peace process.

“Moscow most resolutely condemns this barbaric act of terror, the organisers and the executors of this crime against civilians,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.