Sunday, June 25, 2006

Abbas to Haniyeh: Hamas solely responsible for soldier's fate

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas told Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza on Sunday that Hamas bears sole responsibility for the fate of the abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier, who was kidnapped in a militant raid on an IDF post near the Gaza border, as well as the anticipated IDF response.

Abbas condemned the attack on the IDF post, and called on Palestinian factions to immediately return Corporal Gilad Shalit in the event the soldier is in their custody.

A spokesman for the ruling Hamas party on Sunday afternoon called for militant groups to ensure the safety of an IDF soldier kidnapped earlier in the day in a raid that left two of his comrades dead.

Shalit was abducted during a three-pronged attack by Hamas' military wing and the Popular Resistance Committees on an IDF post inside Israeli territory.

In talks with Hamas' leaders based both in the territories and in Damascus, Abbas expressed his extreme displeasure at the operation, which is unlikely to have been executed without the approval of the Islamic movement's higher echelon based abroad.

Abbas later discussed the attack with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, his office said.

Channel 10 television said that an aide to Abbas had told the station that the PA chairman was "not interested in an escalation."

Three armed groups claimed joint responsibility for the raid: the Iz a-Din al-Qassam Brigades (Hamas' military wing); the Popular Resistance Committees, which is thought to be linked with Hamas; and a relatively unknown group which calls itself "The Army of Islam."

Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad, speaking in Arabic and Hebrew at a news conference in Gaza City, said the government had information on the 19-year-old soldier's capture only from the Israeli side.

"We are calling on the resistance groups, if they do have the missing soldier... to protect his life and treat him well," Hamad said.

He said the Palestinian government was in contact with local and foreign officials, including those in Egypt, to try to find a solution.

A spokesman from the PRC told a local Gaza radio station earlier Sunday that Shalit had sustained stomach wounds but was in stable condition.

Four other soldiers were wounded when militants from the two groups launched a pre-dawn strike after tunneling across the Gaza-Israel border.

Meanwhile, senior Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip went underground Sunday following the attack. The officials would not take phone calls, fearing IDF assassination attempts after Israeli government and military officials placed blame for the attack on the ruling Hamas party.

The armed groups who took part in the strike said the attack was in response to the recent Israeli assassination of a militant leader and for Israel Air Force strikes aimed at preventing the launch of rockets from Gaza, but which killed civilians.

IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told a press conference Sunday afternoon that as far as the army is aware, the soldier is still alive and responsibility for his fate will be borne by Hamas.

Jamal Abu Samhadana, the head of the Popular Resistance Committees, was killed in a strike on a training camp in Gaza. At least 14 Palestinian civilians, many of them children, have been killed in IAF strikes targeting militants firing Qassam rockets.

"It is [an] earthquake reaction to the massacre of civilians," said a joint statement from Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), two militant groups that claimed responsibility for the attack.

Abbas' office issued a statement following the incident saying the attack "violated the national consensus" reached Saturday night by Palestinian factions, including Hamas and the PRC, which stated that "resistance" operations would be limited to areas occupied by Israel in 1967.

"The act goes against all of the positions and declarations reached by the [faction] leaders during the discussions that took place over the last two days in Gaza," said the statement.

Abbas also called on the international community "to prevent Israel from exploiting the attack to carry out large-scale aggression in the Gaza Strip".

IAF strikes in response to the daily Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot and other areas of the western Negev have killed 20 Palestinians in the past two weeks, 14 of them civilians.

Hamas ended a 16-month-old truce with Israel on June 9 after seven members of the same Palestinian family were killed on a Gaza beach during a day of heavy Israeli shelling. Hamas has blamed Israel for those deaths. Israel has denied all responsibility and has ruled out shelling as the cause of the deaths.

"Our fighters infiltrated the Israeli army military location near so-called Kerem Shalom," said Abu Mujahid, a PRC spokesman.

"They succeeded in blowing up several Israeli vehicles and clashed with Israeli soldiers. The battle is still going on. The number of fighters is bigger than any time. We have some martyrs who fell during the battle."

"It was a very complicated and well-studied operation. The details are going to shock the Zionists. There are many surprises that are going to be announced about planning and about the process and about the battle itself."

No comments: