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Gerry M. KayeTRANSLATE. "ISRAEL TO MILITANTS: "LET MY PEOPLE GO"
RAFAH, Gaza Strip - Israel turned up the pressure on Palestinian militants to release a captive soldier Wednesday, sending its warplanes to bomb a Hamas training camp after knocking out electricity and water supplies for most of the 1.3 million residents of the Gaza Strip.
"The operation of kidnapping soldiers has started and is in a countdown," PRC (Palestinian) militants said.
It was Israel's first ground offensive since pulling its soldiers and settlers out of Gaza last summer. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would not balk at "extreme action" to bring Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, home but did not intend to reoccupy Gaza.
Complicating matters was a new claim by the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the three groups that carried out Sunday's assault, that it had also kidnapped a Jewish settler, 18-year-old Eliahu Asheri, in the West Bank; after militants claiming to hold him displayed what they said was a copy of his identification card.
The militants who seized Shalit have demanded the release of hundreds of Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails in exchange for information about the captured soldier. Israeli P.M.Olmert repeated that Israel will not negotiate the release with militant groups.
The Israeli military said in a statement that three bridges were attacked "to impair the ability of the terrorists to transfer the kidnapped soldier." Knocking down the bridges cut Gaza in two, Palestinian security officials said.
Israeli tanks and soldiers began taking up positions east of Rafah overnight under cover of tank shells, witnesses and Palestinian security officials said. Capt. Jacob Dallal, a military spokesman, said troops moved a mile inside the coastal strip.
Israeli warplanes fired at least nine missiles at Gaza's only power station, cutting electricity to 65 percent of the Gaza Strip, engineers at the station said. The station's three functioning turbines and a gasoline reservoir were engulfed in flames. Palestinians dug in behind walls and embankments, preparing for a major strike after Israel sent in troops and tanks and bombarded bridges and a power station. Warplanes fired missiles in northern and southern Gaza.
Israeli troops, backed by tanks, took over the Gaza airport. Dozens of people living near the airport left their homes, seeking sanctuary in nearby Rafah.
The normally bustling streets in southern Gaza, where the invasion was launched, were eerily deserted, with people taking refuge inside their homes. Residents of northern Gaza, preparing for what they feared could be a long military operation, stocked up on food, candles and batteries for radios.
Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Hamas' Syria-based political chief, Khaled Mashaal, was "not immune" from Israeli reprisal.
An aide said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called Syrian President Bashar Assad to ask him to persuade Mashaal to free the soldier. Assad promised to do so, the aide said on condition of anonymity because he was discussing private talks.
Trying to defuse tensions, Hamas negotiators said Tuesday they had accepted a document that Abbas allies say implicitly recognizes Israel. Hamas took over the Palestinian Authority after winning parliamentary elections in January and has been under international pressure to renounce violence and recognize Israel.
No casualties have been reported since the offensive began early Wednesday.
References: 6/28/06 FOX; CNN - Cable News
6/28/06 - "Israelis bomb camp, cut power and water" by IBRAHIM BARZAK, AP Writer
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