Hostilities rise in Gaza
Hamas militants struck inside Israel Sunday, abducting an Israeli soldier.
Pushing an increasingly volatile confrontation closer to open war, both Israel and Hamas raised the stakes Sunday following several weeks of cross-border violence.Skip to next paragraph
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Israeli tanks entered the Gaza Strip after Hamas militants tunneled into southern Israel, launching an attack in which they killed two Israeli soldiers and took one hostage.
The uncharacteristically sophisticated abduction, nine months after the army withdrew from Gaza, evoked Hizbullah's kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers within months of Israel's exit from Lebanon in 2000. But in this case, Israel sees itself as free to reenter Gaza to punish the recently elected government that it considers to be led by terrorists.
"Hamas is involved from the soles of its feet to the head," said Israeli army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told reporters, signaling that Israel holds the Palestinian Authority (PA) responsible for the fate of its kidnapped soldier.
Emerging at dawn Sunday from a tunnel nearly one-quarter of a mile long under the border , a team of militants used anti-tank missiles and grenades to attack the Israeli tank near the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza. Two Palestinians who split off from the group were killed while assaulting a military border outpost.
The attack came just hours after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza to finalize an unprecedented agreement on sharing power that includes a moratorium on attacks inside of Israel, precisely like Sunday's raid.
Hamas's military wing has for the most part observed a year and a half cease-fire in attacks on Israel, allowing other militias to take the initiative in launching rocket attacks at Israeli communities near Gaza.
Sunday's raid is "a kind of a qualitative escalation. There are strong reasons for the security establishment to conclude that the Hamas leadership knew about it even if it wasn't involved in it," says Mark Heller, a fellow at Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Israeli military response sets in motion a dynamic that would lead to an all-out war with Hamas."
A Hamas military leader said the attack was in retaliation for Israel's assassination of Jamal Abu Samhadanah, a militant commander turned Interior Ministry official who was killed in an Israeli airstrike earlier this month.
"This is an answer to the Israeli aggression," says Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas's political spokesman.
Later on Sunday, the Hamas government spokesman, Ghazi Hamad, made a rare appeal to the organization's militants to look after the health of the kidnapped soldier.
Israeli analysts speculated that just as Hizbullah used the abduction in 2000 as a bargaining chip to secure the release of Lebanese militants held in Israel, Hamas hopes to do the same with the soldier kidnapped Sunday. The fact that Mr. Hamad spoke in Hebrew indicated that Hamas may have taken a page from Hizbullah's effective use of psychological warfare aimed at the Israeli public.
Mr. Abbas, a moderate who heads the recently defeated Fatah party, called for the soldier's release, throwing into sharp relief the difficulties of collaboration between the two parties.