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Netanyahu: Israel is prepared for broad Gaza campaign - but as final option

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday Israel is prepared for a widespread military campaign in Gaza as tensions simmered following the latest flare-up -- but only after all other options were exhausted. Netanyahu has been seeking to head off political pressure over Gaza ahead of April 9 elections, in which he faces a strong challenge from former military chief Benny Gantz.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that Israel is prepared to wage a broad military campaign in Gaza but only as a last resort, after a two-day flareup of cross-border fighting less than two weeks before an Israeli election.

"All Israelis should know that if a comprehensive campaign is required, we will enter it strong and safe, and after we have exhausted all of the other possibilities," Netanyahu said after visiting the Gaza frontier and meeting with Israeli commanders.

Security is a major issue for Netanyahu in Israel's April 9 election. In power for a decade and beset by corruption allegations that he denies, he is facing his strongest electoral challenge from a centrist coalition led by a former general.

Israel launched air strikes and moved troops and armour reinforcements to the Gaza border after a Palestinian rocket attack from the Hamas-run enclave wounded seven Israelis in a village north of Tel Aviv on Monday.

"We are tightening the security ring around the Gaza Strip," Netanyahu said in a speech at a highway dedication in Israel after returning from the border with the territory.

This week's fighting came ahead of the first anniversary on March 30 of the start of weekly Gaza protests at the frontier. The protests' organising committee called for a million-person march to mark the anniversary on Saturday at five locations along the frontier with Israel.

Some 200 Gazans have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli fire in the past year. One Israeli soldier was killed.

Israel says its use of lethal force is meant to stop attempts to breach the border and launch attacks on its troops and civilians.

The protesters are demanding the right to return to lands Palestinians fled or were forced to leave in Israel during fighting that accompanied its founding in 1948.

After two days of rocket attacks from Gaza and Israeli air strikes, an uneasy calm took hold on Wednesday amid Egyptian mediation.

Seven Israelis were injured in Monday's initial rocket strike in the village of Mishmeret, 120 km (75 miles) north of Gaza. Twelve Palestinians were wounded by Israeli attacks, Gaza health officials said.

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