Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu threatens war in blockaded Gaza before flying to Russia to discuss Israeli freedom of action in Syria with President Vladimir Putin.

Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he arrives for a meeting in occupied Jerusalem on September 1, 2019.
Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he arrives for a meeting in occupied Jerusalem on September 1, 2019. (Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday threatened war in blockaded Gaza and then flew to Russia to discuss Israeli freedom of action in Syria with President Vladimir Putin as a frenetic election race neared its end.

Before Netanyahu embarked on a visit to the Black Sea resort Sochi to see Putin, Russia condemned Netanyahu's announced plan to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, after next Tuesday's election in Israel.

In an interview with Israel's Kan public radio, Netanyahu was questioned about persistent rocket attacks by Palestinian groups in Gaza. His opponents, in what opinion polls show to be a close race, have accused him of failing to do enough to end the strikes on southern Israel.

"We will probably be forced — there'll be no choice — to enter into a campaign, a war, in Gaza," Netanyahu said.

He said, however, that he does not risk soldiers' and civilians' lives "just to get applause," and he was vague about when any such offensive war might start.

Netanyahu made the remarks two days after sirens warning of rocket fire from besieged Gaza forced him off the stage at a campaign rally in southern Israel.

Israel has responded to such attacks by launching air strikes against facilities belonging to Hamas, the group that governs Gaza.

Israeli troops fire sound grenades inside the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. August 11, 2019
Israeli troops fire sound grenades inside the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. August 11, 2019 (AFP)

With opinion surveys showing his right-wing Likud neck and neck with the centrist Blue and White party, Netanyahu's Russia visit could help him burnish a statesman's image that he has promoted throughout the campaign.

Netanyahu's election posters have featured him shaking hands with Putin and US President Donald Trump, a close ally.

"I think Israeli citizens know that if it weren't for my connections, and meetings every three months [with Putin], we would have clashed a lot," Netanyahu said, referring to the Russian military in Syria and Israeli forces, which have been attacking Iranian-linked targets there.

"The Russian army and the Israeli military and our air force are within touching distance ... the big issue is how to succeed in maintaining our freedom of action in such a crowded area," he said on the radio.

Netanyahu's election posters have featured him shaking hands with US President Donald Trump, a close ally.
Netanyahu's election posters have featured him shaking hands with US President Donald Trump, a close ally. (Reuters)

Facebook sanctions Netanyahu's page

Meanwhile, Facebook says it has sanctioned the page of Netanyahu because of a violation of the company's hate speech policy.

Facebook said on Thursday that the social network had suspended for 24 hours the page's bot or automated chat function.

The page had called on voters to prevent the establishment of a government composed of "Arabs who want to destroy us all — women, children and men." The post sparked uproar by opposition politicians.

Netanyahu denied he wrote the post in an interview with Kan Reshet Bet radio. He said it was a staffer's mistake and the post was removed.

Netanyahu denies White House spying claims

Meanwhile, Netanyahu said on Thursday that reports of Israel planting spying devices near the US White House are a "complete fabrication."

Speaking to reporters after he landed in Russia for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu said there is "no intelligence collection in the United States."

"It is vigorously enforced without any exception," he added.

The Politico website reported on Thursday that the US government believes Israel was most likely behind the planting of mobile eavesdropping devices found near the White House and other sensitive locations in the nation's capital.

Israel reportedly planted StingRay surveillance devices to capture President Donald Trump's phones, the website said, citing an investigation by the FBI and other US agencies.

"It was pretty clear that the Israelis were responsible," one US official told the Politico on condition of anonymity.

Source: AP