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Domestic politics fuels Gaza conflict

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As Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Sunday with upset residents in the Israeli border town of Sderot – hit by rocket fire in recent days – he called on the government to go on the offensive against Hamas.

At the same time, a parliamentary surrogate from his right-wing Likud Party suggested overrunning the blighted coastal strip of 1.6 million in the same way the IDF reoccupied West Bank cities in 2002 at the height of the Intifada.

Already trailing Mr. Netanyahu in the polls ahead of the Feb. 10 vote, Ms. Livni has advocated a tit-for-tat response to rocket fire even though it risks a descent into a wider conflict, which would certainly undermine peace talks that she has helped push forward along with the Bush administration.

"It's obvious that it would be political suicide for an incumbent government to sit back while rockets are being rained down, and say 'we're restraining ourselves,' " says Shmuel Bar, a Middle East expert at the Interdisciplinary Center, a university based in the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzliya.

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