- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 2, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli aircraft fired missiles at the Palestinian prime minister’s office early today, just hours after a Palestinian official said the soldier whose abduction sent Israeli troops into the Gaza Strip is alive and in stable condition.

A Hamas militant was killed in another Israeli air strike.

Witnesses said two missiles hit the Gaza City office of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas early today, leaving one bystander slightly injured and setting the empty building on fire.

Inspecting his burning office, Mr. Haniyeh called the Israeli attack senseless.

“They have targeted a symbol for the Palestinian people,” he said.

The Israeli military confirmed the attack and said it would “employ all means at its disposal … to secure the safe return” of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, who was abducted by Palestinian militants last Sunday.

The missiles struck at about 1:45 a.m., shortly after moderate Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned that the coming hours would be “critical, sensitive and serious” for trying to calm the crisis.

In other air strikes after midnight, Israeli aircraft hit a school in Gaza City and Hamas facilities in northern Gaza, where a Hamas militant was killed and another wounded, Palestinian officials said.

The military said Hamas was “planning terror attacks against Israel.” The 34-year-old Hamas gunman was the second militant killed in the five-day-old Israeli operation to force the release of Cpl. Shalit.

Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants exchanged fire for several hours yesterday afternoon when Israeli tanks and bulldozers crossed into Gaza and began razing farmland east of Khan Younis.

Ziad Abu Aen, a Palestinian deputy minister and Hamas official, said yesterday that Cpl. Shalit was wounded but in stable condition. Another Hamas official, however, cast doubt on the credibility of the statement. Osama Muzami said only that the military wing of the Islamic militant group knows the soldier’s condition.

There had been no sign of Cpl. Shalit, since he was abducted during a militant raid on an Israeli army post just outside the Gaza Strip. Two soldiers and two of the attackers were killed in the incident.

Mr. Abu Aen said “mediators” told him Cpl. Shalit had received medical treatment for wounds he suffered in the raid and was in stable condition.

“He has three wounds,” Mr. Abu Aen said in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “I guess shrapnel wounds.”

The Hamas-affiliated militants holding Cpl. Shalit initially said they would trade information about him for all Palestinian women and underage prisoners in Israeli jails. The militants raised their demands yesterday, calling for an end to the Israeli offensive and the release of 1,000 other prisoners in Israel, including non-Palestinian Muslims and Arabs.

The new demand appeared aimed at rallying support in the Arab world.

Israel has ruled out any compromise, saying it would only encourage more abductions. Israel continued to hold 64 Hamas leaders rounded up in the West Bank on Thursday night. They include eight Cabinet ministers.

Israel also has blamed Syria for the kidnapping of Cpl. Shalit, noting that it gives haven to Hamas’ top leaders.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz met with senior Israeli security officials last night and then called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to urge the Bush administration to step up pressure on Syria to work for Cpl. Shalit’s release, Israeli officials said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make a formal statement.

Egypt and other foreign mediators have been working to try to resolve the crisis, but Mr. Abbas said those efforts had yet to bear fruit mainly because it was not clear who in Hamas — the militants or the group’s leadership abroad — were authorized to make decisions about Cpl. Shalit.

“The next hours are critical, sensitive and serious. And though the efforts are still ongoing, we have not reached an acceptable solution until now,” said a statement released by Mr. Abbas’ office.

He sounded more optimistic at a press conference last night.

“Regarding the soldier, we will surely reach an agreement. It is not a dead end. People want an acceptable solution,” said Mr. Abbas, who is from the rival Fatah party.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country that has close ties with Israel, called President Bush yesterday and discussed the crisis for 30 minutes.

“The president said that the initial goal should be freeing the Israeli soldier — that is the key to ending the crisis,” said Frederick Jones, spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House.

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