- Associated Press - Thursday, March 15, 2012

JERUSALEM Israeli aircraft and Gaza rocket squads traded strikes across the border on Thursday as the Israeli prime minister blamed Iran for the violence from the Palestinian territory.

Benjamin Netanyahu, going a step further in his warnings to Iran, hinted that Israel didn’t need Washington’s blessing to go ahead and attack Iran’s suspect nuclear program.

Thursday’s cross-border violence tested a shaky truce Israel and Gaza militants reached this week to halt a four-day flare-up in fighting. Since then, sporadic rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes have persisted.

Israeli aircraft struck two militant sites in Gaza before dawn Thursday in response to rocket fire a day earlier. Gaza gunmen retaliated by launching two rockets at Israel by midday, police said.

No injuries were reported on either side.

In a speech to parliament on Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu accused Iran of arming, financing and training Gaza militants, and giving them their marching orders. “Gaza is Iran,” he declared.

Israel considers Iran to be its most fearsome enemy, in large part because it is convinced Tehran is developing atomic weapons technology, despite its claims its nuclear program is peaceful.

In the U.S. last week, where he met with President Obama, Mr. Netanyahu was markedly more vocal about Israel’s willingness to attack Iran’s program, alone if necessary, though he said no decision had been made on whether to strike.

On Wednesday, he ratcheted up the tough talk, suggesting Israel would be ready to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities even if the U.S. objected.

“Israel has never left its fate to others, not even the best of its friends,” he said, citing Israel’s 1981 attack on an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor, which at the time was condemned by the U.S.

Also Thursday, rights activists said the health of a Palestinian detainee who has been on a hunger strike for a month is deteriorating.

Hana Shalabi, 30, has refused food since her arrest by Israel on Feb. 16. She is being held without formal charges in so-called administrative detention and is demanding to be released immediately.

A doctor from Israel’s branch of Physicians for Human Rights examined her this week and reported advanced muscle atrophy and wasting, along with severe dizziness and muscle pain, especially in her chest and back.

Israel Prisons Authority spokeswoman Sivan Weizman said Ms. Shalabi’s condition is “relatively OK.”

An independent ethics committee discussed her case this week and decided against force-feeding her, Ms. Weizman said, adding that Ms. Shalabi remains in her cell.

Palestinian officials said four other administrative detainees have begun hunger strikes since the beginning of March.

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