JERUSALEM, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Sunday that Israel "will not hesitate" to use force against the Gaza Strip if the protest near the fence continues.
"I would like to make it clear," Netanyahu said at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting, "if the quiet is not maintained in Gaza, we will make the decisions even in the elections period and will not hesitate to act."
He added that construction works to build a new barrier between Israel and the besieged Palestinian enclave began over the weekend.
"The barrier will prevent terrorists from Gaza from penetrating into our territory on the ground," Netanyahu said.
Israel has recently conveyed a message to Hamas, an Islamist movement that runs Gaza, through Egyptian brokers, warning that it might launch a military campaign if the weekly demonstrations continue, the Hebrew-language Channel 12 TV reported on Saturday.
"Hamas has been warned that the upcoming elections are not a restraining factor and we are not afraid of a campaign also during elections," an anonymous senior Israeli official told the Channel.
Israel's last large-scale military campaign in Gaza took place in 2014, claiming the lives of 2,251 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, and 71 people in Israel, mostly soldiers.
Last March, Palestinians in Gaza launched the "March of Return" protest, in which tens of thousands of protesters rally near the fence separating between Gaza and Israel, mostly during the weekends.
Israel accuses Hamas of orchestrating the protest. But Palestinians say the rallies aim to protest the crippling blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt since 2007.
Israel occupied Gaza, along with the West Bank, in the 1967 Middle East war and has retained its control over these lands ever since, in a move criticized internationally.