The Israeli Defense Force has moved into Gaza to conduct operations at getting their kidnapped soldier back.
Israeli troops entered southern Gaza and planes attacked two bridges and a power station, knocking out electricity in most of the coastal strip early Wednesday and stepping up pressure on Palestinian militants holding captive a 19-year-old Israeli soldier.
Israeli troops began taking up positions in two locations east of the Gaza town of Rafah under the cover of tank shells, according to witnesses and Palestinian security officials. Palestinians dug in behind mounds of dirt, bracing for a major Israeli offensive.
The Israeli strikes came amid intensive diplomatic efforts in the Arab world and by the United Nations. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel to “give diplomacy a chance.”
Trying to defuse building tensions, negotiators from the ruling Hamas movement said Tuesday they had accepted a document implicitly recognizing Israel. But two Syrian-based Hamas leaders denied a final deal had been reached. Israel said only freedom for the captive soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, could defuse the crisis, not a political agreement.
The Israeli military said in a statement that the object of the attacks on the bridges late Tuesday and early Wednesday was “to impair the ability of the terrorists to transfer the kidnapped soldier.” Knocking down the bridges would cut Gaza in two, Palestinian security officials said.
Early Wednesday, Israeli planes fired at least nine missiles at Gaza’s only power station, cutting electricity to much of the Gaza Strip, Palestinian security officials said. The station’s three funtioning turbines and a gasoline reservoir were engulfed in enormous flames that firefighters were unable to control.[…]Complicating matters was a new claim by the Hamas-linked Popular Resistance Committees, one of the three groups that carried out Sunday’s assault, that it had also kidnapped a Jewish settler in the West Bank.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the report was being taken “very seriously,” and military officials said there was “rising fears” the claim was true.
The fate of the abducted soldier has riveted Israelis, with Shalit’s face plastered on newspapers and callers to talk shows praying for his safety.
In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, Noam Shalit begged the captors of his wounded son’s to provide medical care and asked “to hear his voice and to see his face.”
Olmert rejected the kidnappers’ demands to free Palestinian prisoners and instead approved plans for a military push into Gaza. About 3,000 soldiers, along with tanks and armored vehicles, massed along Israel’s border with the territory, and commanders said they were awaiting orders to move in.
YNet is reporting that the group holding the latest kidnapping victim is threatening to kill him unless Isreal pulls out:
Soon after IDF forces raided Gaza at around 2:30 a.m., a spokesman for Popular Resistance Committees says group would kill Eliyahu Asheri, missing since Sunday, if Israeli forces do not pull out of Gaza. Police, IDF forces search Bethlehem, Ramallah for youth
This report details what the IDF intends to do:
The IDF intends to gain control of all open areas in the Strip east of the border town of Rafah.
The operation is expected to put pressure on Palestinians to release abducted IDF soldier Corporal Gilad Shalit after two days of failed mediation.
This is the face of the new Palestinian government, and the face of a doomed government to boot. Egypt knows it, and so does many other Arab countries:
Arab countries, worried about Hamas’ ascendancy and especially the actions of its more militant wings, appeared to be trying to support Abbas as he worked to isolate the more militant arm of Hamas and forge ties with the political wing of Hamas.
Israel is doing the right thing here, maybe they could have made this a bigger operation but they are at least sending a message.
UPDATE 06/27/06 2248hrs PST
Israel appears to be sending more then a few messages today:
Israel has warned the supreme leader of Hamas he will be targeted for assassination if a kidnapped Israeli soldier is harmed.
International mediators are trying to win the release of the soldier, who was abducted during a weekend attack on an Israeli military post.
It is believed that Corporal Gilad Shalit is being held by Palestinian militants from Hamas somewhere in southern Gaza.
Egyptian and French mediators are talking to the militant groups in an effort to win the soldier’s freedom.
But it is understood that the exiled supreme leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, is refusing to authorise the Israeli’s release.
Responding to the reports, the head of Israel’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, Tzachi Hanegbi, issued a threat to Mr Meshaal.
Mr Hanegbi says the Hamas leader will be targeted for assassination should any harm come to the captured soldier.