Israel Threatens Attack in Response to Kidnapping
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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News, Steve Inskeep. I'm Susan Stamberg.
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The news out of Gaza this morning, is an agreement between two rival Palestinian factions, on a document that implicitly recognizes Israel. The plan, agreed by Hamas and Fatah, calls for a Palestinian state, alongside Israel, and it could lead to the lifting of international sanctions against the Hamas-led Palestinian government. This breakthrough comes as Israeli forces are massed Gaza's southern border. They're prepared to launch a broad military operation if Palestinian militants refuse to free an Israeli soldier captured last weekend.
NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.
ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:
Senior aides to Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas say he's been intensively working with Egyptians mediators and working the phones, talking to Hamas leaders late into the night, as well as Arab Prime Ministers and Kings, to try to pressure the militant Islamists to get its military wing to release Corporal Gilad Shilat.
Emil Abdul Rodana(sp) is a close advisor to Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.
Mr. Emil Abdul Rodana (Abbas Advisor): Abu Mazen is doing all his efforts, day by night. The most important thing now is how to find the solution which prevents more escalation; which prevents more danger; which prevents more deaths on every side.
WESTERVELT: But Abbas and Hamas may be running out of time. Israeli officials are calling on the Palestinians to quickly secure the soldiers' release or face military action. Hamas officials continue to claim they do not have control of the Israeli soldier, while simultaneously endorsing the attack that led to his capture. Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas spokesman says, Corporal Shalit is alive and in relatively in good health. We want this resolved swiftly and peacefully, he says. Hamad then quickly makes it clear he is not calling for the soldiers' release, and calls the attack on the Israeli post a natural reaction.
Mr. GHAZI HAMAD, (Senior Hamas Spokesman): Daily, in Gaza, killing and murdering and bombing and assassination. Many times I call for ceasefire for a calm in the situation, but the Israeli side, they never listen to us. You expect sometimes they'll find that some people [unintelligible]
WESTERVELT: Yesterday three groups who say they're holding the soldier, including members of Hamas' military wing, demanded the release of Palestinian women and nearly 300 teenagers under 18, in Israeli jails. Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said there will be no releases, no negotiations.
A foreign ministry official said Corporal Shalit must be released unconditionally. Speaking yesterday in Jerusalem, Olmert made it clear, Senior Hamas leaders could be targeted.
Prime Minister EHUD OLMERT (Israel): (Through Interpreter) I instructed the army's commanders to prepare our forces in order to ready for a broad and ongoing military operation to strike at the terror organizations, their commanders, and anybody involved in terror. Let it be clear, we will get to them all, wherever they may be and they know it. No one is immune.
WESTERVELT: Israeli media today report that the government has approved a plan to restrict gas, water, and food supplies to Gaza if the soldier is not released. Israel unilaterally withdrew its army and settlers from the Gaza Strip almost one year ago.
A tumultuous move, Israeli leaders said would enhance security. Now, with the rise of Hamas, near daily rocket fire from the area, and this weekend's cross border attack, Israeli tanks are now poised to reenter the strip. Many ordinary residents are bracing for more violence.
On a Central Gaza beach, teenagers sold hot tea from a horse drawn wooden cart as families picnic.
(Soundbite of crowd noise)
Groups or kids played soccer as green Hamas flags fluttered in the breeze Uhm Ulmer(ph) took six of her children to the beach, to try to carry on as if it was a normal day, as an Israeli navy gun boat hovered just off shore.
Ms. UHM ULMER: (Through Interpreter) We are scared. We are supposed to be here for a picnic, but we're not enjoying it because we are afraid that something bad might happen any moment.
WESTERVELT: Many in Gaza are already feeling the sting of an international economic boycott and are rattled by a surge of bloodshed with Israel and by inter-Palestinian violence as Hamas and Fatah continue to fight over power. Muhammad Abu Shuhawah(ph), an unemployed 39-year old, says, we've got little less to lose; nothing could be harder then what we're living in.
It's a statement that could soon be tested.
Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.