Israel Resource Review 26th June, 2006


Middle East News Line Feature

For the first time since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005, Palestinian insurgents from the Gaza Strip have struck a military position in the Jewish state.

On Sunday, Hamas and the aligned Popular Resistance Committees, emerging from a kilometer-long tunnel, conducted a three-pronged attack on an Israeli base south of the Gaza Strip. Two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third was abducted.

"Members from the Hamas and Popular Resistance Committees terror organizations infiltrated into Israel through a tunnel originating from the Rafah area, passing under the security fence to the area of the Kerem Shalom crossing in Israel," a military statement said. "The cell, backed by mortar and anti-tank fire from within the Gaza Strip, attacked IDF targets located between the Kerem Shalom and Sufa crossings."

The military said four soldiers were injured in a battle in which Israeli helicopters and troops briefly entered the Gaza Strip. Seven insurgents damaged an armored personnel carrier, a main battle tank and watchtower in an attack the military said was conducted and "spearheaded by senior members of the Hamas and authorized by the party's leadership."

"The IDF holds the Palestinian Authority and the democratically-elected Hamas government responsible for the attack and the fate of the missing soldier," the military said.

On late Sunday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert convened leading Cabinet ministers to discuss the attack, in which at least two Palestinians were killed. But officials said Olmert, who spoke to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, did not order military retaliation, rather to seek the release of the captured soldier, believed to have been injured.

Israel has requested help from Egypt to free the abducted soldier, who officials said could be smuggled into the neighboring Sinai Peninsula. On Monday, an Egyptian delegation arrived in the Gaza Strip to meet PA officials and insurgency leaders.

"We have entered a difficult phase," Tourism Minister Yitzhak Herzog, who participated in the Cabinet meeting, said.

Officials said Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz has ordered the drafting of military options that include a major ground operation in the Gaza Strip. For months, Halutz and Defense Minister Amir Peretz rejected appeals from Southern Command for a major operation to destroy Palestinian missile production facilities.

At a news conference on Sunday, Halutz said the military was surprised by the tunnel attack. He did not elaborate, but officials said authorities were not aware of the Palestinian tunnel, which took at least two months to complete.

In a joint statement, Hamas and the PRC said their attack was meant to avenge the Israeli assassination of PRC commander Jamal Abu Samhadana on June 9. They said the strike was meant to end pressure on the Islamic movement to agree to a ceasefire with Israel.

"There was an operation to land fighters behind the Kerem Shalom crossing," Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida said. "There is a large number of fatalities and wounded among the enemy."

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