Yesterday the Israelites received a response to the abduction of 19-year-old Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit, in the form of the counter arrest of several Palestinian leaders. The sudden attack on the Israeli post by hitmen, leading to the death of two soldiers and the capture of corporal Shalit, was a great humiliation for the Israeli army. Now it is the turn of the Palestinians to feel humiliated.
Israel’s defense army (ZAHAL) has arrested approximately 70 high-ranking activists from the radical Islamic group HAMAS on the Western shore of the river Jordan. Amongst those arrested are eight of the 24 ministers of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and twenty parliament deputies, including the Finance Minister Omar Abdel Razik, the Labour Minister Mohammed Barghouthi, the Jerusalem Affairs Minister Khaled Abu Arafeh and Parliament Speaker Aziz Al-Dweik.
Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has declared that the Hamas government “follows a terrorist policy; for this reason the arrests of Palestinian politicians are essential for the investigation into their participation in unlawful proceedings”. The ZAHAL press service added that “the arrests were carried out in strict accordance with the law” but “those arrested cannot be used in exchange for the liberation of Shalit”. Israel has promised to release the prisoners after trial.
After a few days, both sides dared to show weakness to the opposition. During the attack, the ZAHAL soldiers slept through the approach of the hitmen. The Palestinian ministers were also captured by the Israelites at night. This was a clear reminder of the fact that the Palestinian administration is not capable of defending itself in the case of an intensified conflict with Israel. Such a government should not play with fire or support the subversive activities of hitmen against the Jewish state.
The Israelites have not yet attempted to arrest the leaders of HAMAS who are located in Gaza. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mahmud Zakhar, having apparently gone underground, turned to the UNO and the League of Arab States for help. Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Israel’s Minister of National Infrastructure called the HAMAS government a “criminal organization”. He warned that none of its members was “immune to arrest or other damage”. Yusef Riska, the Minister of Information for the Palestinian National Authority, organized a press conference in Gaza, at which he called the arrests “a threat to the political regime in Palestine and to democratic values as a whole”.
According to the Israeli media, if the measures taken do not help to find Shalit, Israel will begin the liquidation of high-ranking officials of the PA government. Yesterday, not far from the Palestinian city of Ramal, Israeli soldiers found the body of 18-year-old Israeli deportee Eliyahu Asheri with a bullet wound his head. The terrorist group “National Council of Resistance” who accepted responsibility for his abduction on Sunday, threatened yesterday to abduct Israelites again in the near future.
Real hopes of saving the corporal are diminishing. Consequently, the likelihood of a powerful decision is increasing. “Military action in the Gaza area on the part of Israel’s defense army will continue, despite the fact that I cannot guarantee that the operationwill have apositiveresult for Israel”, informed Amir Peretz of Israel’s defense army.
Palestinian hitmen are not prepared to surrender. Abu Ubeida, a representative of the Izzedine al Kassam Brigade of the HAMAS militant wing, declared that the arrests of leaders of the PA would not aid the liberation of Shalit. Their demands remain as before – Israel must free all Palestinian women and children under the age of 18 from prison. “We are not fighting a war, Israel should be prepared to pay for its actions”, warned the HAMAS press-service.
Israel’s air force yesterday beat hitmen for positions in the Northern and Southern regions of Gaza – in Khan-Yunis and Beit-Hanoun, from where Israeli cities most often fire Kassam missiles. The head of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Mahmoud Abbas called the Israeli explosions “collective punishment”. The autonomy’s peaceful population does not want war. Inhabitant Ramallah Salima Khaine spoke to Vremya Novostei. “We live in constant tension, we fear explosions and hunger. Worse still is the thought that it could get worse. I believe that we should immediately release the Israeli soldiers and Israel should free our ministers and parliament officials. That way everything would calm down”.
The government’s decision to drop the army to save one corporal is supported by Israelites. The newspaper Haaretz writes that Israel always fights for its citizens and is prepared to pay a high price even for the return of victims’ bodies. Yuval Shteinitz, a Knesset deputy from the Likud party, informed Vremya Novostei: “It is not permitted by Israeli principles to leave an Israelite in prison, even if his liberation would cause the sacrifice of other lives. The Prime Minister Ekhud Olmert made the correct decision in leading troops to Gaza, but he did this too late, the operation should have been started straight after the abduction of Gilad”.
The leaders of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of the Big 8 countries, who assembled in Moscow yesterday (see page 2 for more details), called for Israelites and Palestinians to refrain from one-sided actions, which may throw doubt on the final state of Palestinian territory. In connection to the abduction of the Israelites, the ministers condemned “the extremist groups responsible for these actions”. They also urged Israel to “show maximum restraint” and expressed “particular concern about the practice of keeping captive selected members of the Palestinian government and legislative organs”.
The USA administration declared that Israel “has the right” to defend itself and its people.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also did not refuse Israel “its right and duty to defend the lives and safety of its citizens” yesterday. “But this must not be done by sacrificing the lives of many innocent Palestinians, using mass military explosions with grave consequences for the civilian population”, added the official representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mikhail Kamynin, urging Israel to return to negotiations. However, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday declared that preparations for the meeting between Prime Minister Olmert with Mahmud Abbas had been cancelled.
Translated by Leila Wilmers
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