JERUSALEM – While the U.S., European countries and many Arab leaders have been applying international pressure on the Hamas-led Palestinian government to free an Israeli soldier kidnapped in a raid yesterday, Iran and Syria today pressured Hamas to hold on to their captive, diplomatic sources involved in the negotiations told WorldNetDaily.
Israel has ringed the Gaza border with ground troops and tanks and has warned it may launch a massive ground and air assault in response to an operation yesterday in which Palestinian groups, including Hamas, attacked an Israeli Defense Forces military station, killing two soldiers and kidnapping a third.
Hamas officials told WND the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic opposition organization working to replace the current Egyptian regime, has offered to launch mass protests in Egypt and Jordan if Israeli ground troops enter Gaza. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, warned the protests could have a destabilizing effect on the region.
During yesterday’s attack, eight Palestinian terrorists used a half-mile tunnel they dug to infiltrate behind Israel’s Kerem Shalom military station, which is on the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border.
Soldiers at the border usually monitor the Gaza Strip and not the Israeli side, where the tunnel exit was located.
Upon exiting the tunnel, the Palestinian terrorists split into three cells, one lobbing more than 20 anti-tank missiles at an army tank; another attacking the tank with grenades, killing the two Israeli soldiers and kidnapping one. The third cell attacked an army lookout post.
Two terrorists were killed during the raid, while the others escaped into Gaza with the kidnapped soldier. he army was not aware one of its troops had been kidnapped until several minutes after the operation.
The Kerem Shalom station had been on high alert the past few days after the army received specific warnings of a terror attack. One of the warning alerts, obtained by WND, outlined the possibility of a Palestinian attack using a tunnel.
Today, a senior military intelligence official told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee the abducted IDF soldier, 19-year-old Gilad Shalit, is being held in the Gaza Strip by senior members of Hamas’ so called “resistance wing.”
The officer told the Knesset Israel does not know exactly where Shilat is, but “we understand that the soldier is alive and lightly wounded.”
An earlier statement by the Gaza-based Popular Resistance Committees terror group claimed the Committees was holding Shilat and that he was being treated for a stomach wound. A Committees spokesman later denied the report. The group often works closely with Hamas.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzippy Livni today held a meeting with 60 ambassadors from countries offering to pressure Hamas to turn over Shilat. Some countries said they would even join in rescue operations.
French Ambassador to Israel Gerard Araud said Paris initiated contacts with the PA over the matter. Shilat is a joint French-Israeli citizen.
Egypt and Jordan are “deeply” involved in mediation with Hamas over freeing Shilat, diplomatic sources said. The sources said Egypt has been in direct contact with overall Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who resides in Syria and is thought to have ordered the operation.
Iran and Syria, though, have been pressuring Meshaal to hold on to Shilat, the diplomatic sources said.
“Iran and Syria both want an escalation in the region to distract from the troubles surrounding their regimes,” said a diplomatic source. “They want Israel to launch a ground operation. Violence helps them.”
Meanwhile Israel has said it holds Hamas responsible for Shilat’s fate. IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said Hamas was tied “from head to foot” to the deadly attack on the post. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel holds the PA responsible “with all that implies.”
Shalit is the first Israeli soldier to be seized by Palestinians since 1994 when a 19-year-old Israeli-American was abducted. At the time, Israeli commandos stormed the safe house where the soldier was held, but he died in the raid along with three of his kidnappers.
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