Israel's air force has struck more than 30 targets in Gaza in the past 24 hours, hitting roads, bridges and power plants, in addition to hundreds of artillery shells fired by the army, in a massive offensive meant to pressure Hamas-linked militants to release Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19. Shalit was captured Sunday when Gaza militants tunneled under the border, attacking an Israeli outpost and killing two other soldiers.
While thousands of troops are massed along both sides of the Israel-Gaza border waiting for the go-ahead for a massive invasion into the crowded coastal area, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said militants had agreed to Shalit's conditional release, but that Israel had not accepted the terms.
Israeli officials said they did not know of such an offer. But a senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the secrecy of the diplomacy, said the planned ground offensive had been delayed due to a request by Egypt that mediators be given a chance to resolve the crisis.
However, other officials denied the delay was due to Egypt, saying it reflected Israel's overall management of the crisis, which they said required both military pressure and withholding force when necessary.
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz called for leaders who have influence on the Hamas government to exert immediate pressure on them to release Shalit.
Taher al-Nunu, a Palestinian Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the Palestinian government was still seeking a "diplomatic solution to end the crisis."
There has been no sign of life from Shalit since his abduction Sunday. The Popular Resistance Committees revealed no information about his condition in a statement Thursday, but insisted on swapping him for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Israel has rejected that demand.
In the pre-dawn attack on the Interior Ministry, Hamas minister Said Siyam's office went up in flames when a missile scored a direct hit on his fourth-floor room. The ground floor office of Siyam's bodyguard was also destroyed, while the first, second and third floors of the buildings were left untouched.
The Interior Ministry is nominally in charge of the Palestinian security forces, but President Mahmoud Abbas stripped it of much of its authority in a power struggle that erupted after Hamas won a January parliamentary election. The Israeli military said it targeted the ministry because it was "a meeting place to plan and direct terror activity."
Palestinian police and members of the Hamas militia guarding the nearby Foreign Ministry fled immediately after the attack on the ministry, fearing their building would be next, witnesses said. The office of Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Abbas' house are less than one kilometer (half a mile) from the Interior Ministry.
But Haniyeh and nearly all the members his Hamas-led Cabinet have not been seen since Shalit's kidnapping, fearing they could be killed or face a fate similar to that of their colleagues in the West Bank, eight of whom were rounded up and thrown in Israeli prisons on Thursday. Another 20 lawmakers have also been imprisoned.
In an unprecedented punishment Friday, the Israeli interior ministry revoked the Jerusalem residency rights of four senior Hamas officials, officials said. The measure takes away their right to live in the holy city and travel within Israel freely.
In a weary world of endless US military interventions, sanctions, trade tariffs and chaos, let’s pause and take stock of the shining house on the hill