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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Israel to Abu Mazen: Release soldier or IDF will enter Gaza

'Moderate Palestinian President' Mahmoud Abbas Abu Mazen has told all of the Palestinian terror groups that he received an ultimatum from the Israeli government: release the soldier kidnapped in this morning's terror attack safely within a matter of hours, or the IDF will enter Gaza and the terror groups will be responsible.

Chief of General Staff Dan Halutz confirmed at a press conference this afternoon that the soldier is still alive, and that Hamas is holding him. He said that Hamas was involved "hand and foot" in this incident and said that he held Hamas responsible for the soldier's well-being. The soldier is the first to be kidnapped in Israel by 'Palestinians' since Nachshon Waxman HY"D, a 19-year old who was also an American citizen, was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas in 1994. Three IDF soldiers were kidnapped and murdered by Hezbullah at the Lebanese border in 2000.

Hamas did not formally claim the abduction but said that it would not provide Israel with any information on the soldier's whereabouts without 'getting something in return.'

Brig-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the Gaza southern commander, reiterated Halutz's comments, but added that it was possible that the soldier was wounded during the attack.

Security forces sweeping the area around Rafah found the soldier's flak jacket.

In the press conference, Halutz admitted that the army did not know about the tunnel through which the terrorists entered ("if we had known about it, we would have destroyed it"), and refused to comment on any changes that the IDF may adopt along the Gaza border as a result of this incident. The army is doing all it can to make sure that the soldier is not transported into Egypt.

The IDF Spokesperson's Office said: "The terror attack was led by senior Hamas members in the Gaza Strip and was approved by the Hamas leadership. The IDF views the incident with severity and sees the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government responsible for the terror attack and for the fate of the missing soldier."

The Egyptians have leaped at the opportunity to act as a go-between for Israel and Hamas. We all know what a(n often not) positive role they have played in that regard in the past.

Of the eight attackers this morning, two were killed and the rest escaped back to Gaza through a hole they blew in the border. The IDF suffered two killed (no names released yet), three wounded and one missing. This morning's incursion was a limited incursion to search for the mssing solder. What is now under discussion is a much more extensive encroachment.

YNet has the best summary of the attack that I have seen:

The well-planned attack on the post started, at 5:40 a.m., according to the IDF. Eight armed Palestinians infiltrated Israel through a tunnel leading from the Strip into Israel's territory, and split into three teams once they came out. One team approached an armored personnel carrier stationed at the place and fired at it. The APC was empty and no injuries were reported in that attack.

Another group simultaneously fired a missile and hurled grenades at a tank standing nearby. The missile hit the tank's rear, hurting the four soldiers that were inside. Two were immediately killed, a third soldier sustained injuries and the fourth was initially reported missing. As the incident developed, security officials came to believe that the soldier has been kidnapped.

During the attack, a third terrorist team moved in the direction of a desert patrol army post and engaged in a shooting battle with the soldiers. An explosive device was also activated at the place. Three soldiers sustained light-to-moderate injuries as a result of the blast, and some of the terrorists were hurt as well.

From the moment the incident was first reported of, the Southern Command and the General Staff have held constant meetings to evaluate the situation, headed by Army Chief Dan Halutz, in a bid to track down the cell behind the kidnapping and return the soldier to Israel.

At the initial stage, heavy equipment was deployed in the area where the incident occurred and where the tunnel was located, in order to try and uncover the terrorists' path. Large forces, including special units, have gone on a state of alert and are preparing to enter Rafah in a bid to locate the abducted soldier.

The IDF has also asked the Egyptian policemen stationed on the border to secure the area and make sure the terrorists don’t try and transfer the solider to Egypt. [I would not count on the Egyptians. CiJ]

While the army has not completed investigating the occurrences in Kerem Shalom, difficult questions arise regarding the way the terrorists managed to infiltrate Israel and carry out the attack. One of the main questions is whether the deployment of the forces in the area was adequate. It is also unclear why no forces provided covering fire for the tank and APC at the post.


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