JUNE 29 2006


Syria: Israel made big mistake June 29


A body found near Ramallah appears to be that of an 18 year old West Bank settler abducted by Palestinian militants last weekend, Israeli security sources said Thursday.


During the day, the Popular Resistance Committees displayed the identity card of a Jewish settler the group said it kidnapped Sunday, and said the captive would be "butchered" unless Israel stopped its incursion into Gaza.


The family of Eliyahu Yitzhak Asheri, who is from the Itamar settlement near Nablus, reported him missing Sunday, telling police he did not return from the French Hill district of Jerusalem. (Watch as slaying expected to deepen crisis  1:34)


The discovery was the latest in a series of events that began Sunday, when Palestinian militants kidnapped Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit and killed two other soldiers during a raid in Israeli territory near its border with Egypt and Gaza.


Israeli troops entered southern Gaza early Wednesday to search for the soldier, and their attacks continued Thursday with Israeli aircraft hitting targets in Khan Yunis in the south and in Gaza City to the north.


Defense Minister Amir Peretz told reporters Wednesday that he had approved new operations in northern Gaza in an effort to stop the firing of homemade Qassam rockets into Israel.


Israel warned residents of northern Gaza to leave their homes, and Israeli tanks could be seen firing into the area as dusk fell. An Israeli airstrike in Khan Yunis targeted what the Israeli military said was a storehouse for the rockets.


There was increasing tension in the region, with Israeli warplanes buzzing the home of Syria's president and rounding up members of the Palestinian Cabinet, led by the Islamic militant group Hamas.


In the West Bank, four Cabinet ministers Labor Minister Mohammad al-Barghouti, Minister of Jerusalem Affairs Khaled Abu Arafeh, Minister of Local Governments Issa al Jaabari and Religious Affairs Minister Naif al Rajoub were arrested along with four legislators, according to Palestinian sources.

Finance Minister Omar Abdul Razek was being questioned by soldiers, the sources said.


At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned against any action "that will expand or escalate the situation."

But Palestinian militant leaders vowed that Israel's incursion into Gaza would succeed only "over our dead bodies."

Israel rejects negotiations

Shalit, 19, was kidnapped Sunday in a bold raid in which Palestinian militants emerged from a tunnel into southern Israel and attacked an army outpost.


On Monday, three Palestinian militant groups the Popular Resistance Committees, the military wing of Hamas, and the previously unknown Army of Islam claimed responsibility for Shalit's kidnapping.


They issued a statement saying they would exchange information about the soldier if Israel freed all Palestinian women and youths under 18 who are in Israeli jails.


The Israeli government quickly rejected that offer and other calls to release Shalit as part of a prisoner exchange.


Israeli intelligence officials said the militants had hatched the plan for the kidnapping and proposed prisoner swap. But Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said Wednesday the plan was approved by exiled Hamas political leader Khalid Meshaal, who lives in Damascus.


Wednesday evening, Israeli jets buzzed the home of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Ladekye, outside Damascus a move Syrian state television called "an unacceptable, hostile and provocative act." Israeli television reported that the president was at home at the time.


Syrian television did not mention the overflight of al-Assad's home. It said its anti-aircraft batteries fired on the Israeli warplanes and chased them away.


Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States, told CNN's "The Situation Room" that the flight was "mostly theatrical."


"Syria is not involved whatsoever in what's happening there," he said, referring to Gaza. "The only reason that the violence is taking place there is the continuous occupation by the Israelis and the daily killing of Palestinians."

U.N. chief urges restraint

Annan said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told him he would exercise "maximum restraint," but Annan urged Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to "work together to calm the situation."


In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the Bush administration looks to Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to release Shalit "immediately."


"The United States is working with the Israeli government, with President Abbas and with others of the region, particularly the Egyptians, to effect the immediate release of the captured soldier," he said.






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