Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Israeli Troops Enter Gaza; Bridges Hit
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israeli tanks and troops entered southern Gaza and planes attacked three bridges and knocked out electricity to the coastal strip early Wednesday, stepping up the pressure on Palestinian militants holding captive a 19-year-old Israeli soldier.
The ground troops and tanks began taking up positions in two locations east of the Gaza town of Rafah under the cover of tank shells, according to witnesses and Palestinian security officials. Palestinians dug in behind walls and sand embankments, bracing for a major Israeli offensive.
The Israeli strikes came amid intensive diplomatic efforts in the Arab world and by the United Nations. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel to "give diplomacy a chance."
Trying to defuse building tensions, negotiators from the ruling Hamas movement said Tuesday they had accepted a document implicitly recognizing Israel. But two Syrian-based Hamas leaders denied a final deal had been reached.
Israel said only freedom for the captive soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, could defuse the crisis, not a political agreement.
The Israeli military said in a statement that the object of the attacks on the bridges was "to impair the ability of the terrorists to transfer the kidnapped soldier." Knocking down the bridges cut Gaza in two, Palestinian security officials said.
UPDATE: Home Fly-By Sends Message to Syrian Leader
By JOSEF FEDERMAN
Associated Press Writer
Israeli warplanes buzzed the summer residence of Syrian President Bashar Assad early Wednesday, military officials said, in a message aimed at pressuring the Syrian leader to win the release of a captured Israeli soldier.
The officials said on condition of anonymity that the fighter jets flew over Assad's palace in a low-altitude overnight raid near the Mediterranean port city of Latakia in northwestern Syria. Israeli television reports said four planes were involved, and Assad was home at the time.
The flight caused "noise" on the ground, the military officials said on condition of anonymity, according to military guidelines.
The officials said Assad was targeted because of the "direct link" between Syria and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group holding Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, in the Gaza Strip. Syria hosts Khaled Meshaal, Hamas' exiled supreme leader.
There was no immediate reaction from Syria.
The flyover was the second time Israel has buzzed Assad's summer palace. In August 2003, warplanes reportedly flew so low that windows in the palace shattered. At the time, Israel said the flyover was aimed at pressuring Assad to dismantle Palestinian militant groups based in his country.
In October 2003, an Israeli warplanes bombed an Islamic Jihad training base deep in Syria. It was the first attack on Syrian soil in more than two decades.
The airstrike followed a suicide bombing by Islamic Jihad that killed 19 Israelis in a restaurant.