Israeli soldier taken captive

Monday, June 26, 2006

In a pre-dawn, cross border raid by Palestinian militants on an Israeli military position near Kerem Shalom on Sunday, two Israeli soldiers and two Palestinian gunmen were killed. A number of Israeli soldiers were wounded and a 19-year-old Israeli Soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit was taken captive. He had been in the army for 11 months, and is the first Israeli soldier to be taken captive since 1994. Hamas' Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the Popular Resistance Committees, and the Army of Islam have claimed responsibility for the raid and Gilad Shalit's subsequent capture, although they have not confirmed that they are holding him themselves. Hamas claimed that the operation was in response to the recent deaths of civilians and the targeted killings of two militant leaders.

The raid followed the detention by Israeli forces of two Palestinians claimed to be Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip the previous day in what was Israel's first military incursion into Palestinian territory since its disengagement in 2005.

At least seven Palestinian militants took part in the attack, gaining entry into Israel via a more than 300-metre-long tunnel from the Gaza Strip. After crossing the border via the tunnel, the militants split into three groups and attacked a watch tower and an empty armoured personnel Carrier; while the third group attacked a tank with Rocket propelled grenade. Two militants died during the raid.

Two Israeli soldiers, Lieutenant Hanan Barak, and Staff Sergeant Pavel Slutsker, both 20 years old, died in the attack on the tank. The missing soldier was a tank gunner. A fourth member of the group was seriously injured.

Israel has responded by incursions into the Gaza Strip and air strikes on bridges and the major power station in the search for their missing soldier who is thought to be alive following Palestinian Authority announcements. Currently, the militants are reportedly demanding, "First, the immediate release of all women in prison. Second, the immediate release of all children in prison younger than 18.", until they release the Israeli soldier. The Popular Resistance Committees stated that they would execute a kidnapped Israeli settler, seized in the West Bank, if the Israeli Army moved in. Israeli police have not confirmed this claim, but are investigating the disappearance of an 18 year old settler.

It is believed that Israel is holding approximately 100 women and 300 individuals under 18 among the over 9 000 Palestinians incarcerated in Israeli facilities. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a speech in Jerusalem, "The question of freeing [Palestinian] prisoners is in no way on the Israeli government agenda. There will be no negotiations, no bargaining, no agreements." He also has prepared the Israeli army for an extensive operation. "The time is approaching for a comprehensive, sharp and severe Israeli operation. We will not wait forever," Mr Olmert said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged Israel to give diplomacy a chance to win the release of the tank gunner.

Other countries have been attempting to broker the soldier's release. Hoping to head off a potentially major conflict, Egypt has been trying to negotiate Shalit's release. So has France, as the conscript has French as well as Israeli citizenship.