- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 25, 2006

TEL AVIV — Hamas militants kidnapped an Israeli soldier and killed two others in an early morning raid on an army post yesterday, prompting Israel to threaten its first major offensive in the Gaza Strip since it withdrew last year.

An army official said Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, was abducted from a tank that came under rocket and grenade fire from Palestinian militants who had infiltrated into Israel through a tunnel under the border from Gaza. Two Palestinian militants were killed.

Israel sent ground troops into Gaza to search for the soldier in what threatens to become the most serious confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian government since Hamas took control earlier this year.

Israeli diplomats implored foreign counterparts to pressure Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to secure Cpl. Shalit’s release. The diplomatic effort was accompanied by the threat of harsh Israeli retaliation and a new assassination campaign against Hamas.

“Anyone who causes injury to the soldier should know that their blood will be on their head and all of their leaders,” said Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

Mr. Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh — a Hamas leader — had met just hours earlier to discuss arrangements that would prevent the kind of border infiltration that occurred yesterday.

A Hamas militant interviewed on Arab satellite television said the strike was meant as a message to Israel that the Islamist organization is capable of striking deep inside the country.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the attack was staged in retaliation for a beach explosion two weeks ago in which seven members of a family were killed. Israel, at first, apologized for the explosion but later said it had determined its military was not responsible.

More moderate Hamas politicians yesterday called on party militants not to harm their captive, suggesting divisions within the movement over the operation.

Mr. Abbas condemned the abduction and called for the Israeli soldier’s immediate release. He said he would hold Hamas responsible for any large-scale Israeli incursion into Gaza.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told reporters that Mr. Abbas must use the weight of his office to ensure the safety of Cpl. Shalit.

Referring to the Palestinian president by his popular nickname, she said, “He has an obligation to act so that the soldier returns home to Israel safely. That is the expectation of the international community of Abu Mazen.”

The militant infiltration was uncharacteristically intricate and evoked the tactics of Hezbollah, which abducted three Israeli soldiers from the Israeli-Lebanon border in 2000. Like the Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia, Hamas militants are likely to demand the release of thousands of comrades in Israeli jails.

The Ha’aretz newspaper reported that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had ordered Israeli government officials not to negotiate with the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority for the release of the captive.

Israel reportedly was hoping to receive an intelligence tip on the soldier’s whereabouts.

In formulating any retaliation, Israeli military planners will have to calculate whether to hit Palestinian government targets controlled by Hamas and to what degree the fallout is likely to hurt Mr. Abbas, who is viewed sympathetically by the international community.

“There might be some kind of effort to make a distinction between Hamas-controlled institutions and individuals and those with Abu Mazen, but it will be a difficult thing to do in practice,” said Mark Heller a fellow at Tel Aviv University’s Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies.

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