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Archive for Saturday, July 1, 2006

Palestinian militants demand release of prisoners

July 1, 2006

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— Militants holding an Israeli soldier demanded today the release of 1,000 prisoners and a halt to Israel's Gaza offensive, complicating efforts to resolve the crisis before it boils over into major fighting.

The latest demand came after Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said that Israel's military action was aimed at toppling the Hamas-led government, but maintained he was working with mediators toward a resolution.

Israel, meanwhile, kept up the pressure Friday in Gaza, destroying the interior minister's office and targeting a car carrying militants in an airstrike. Israel also said it attacked a militant cell, killing a local Islamic Jihad leader - the first reported death in the offensive.

Concerned about the rising tensions, the U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting. The Palestinians asked the United Nations' most powerful body to condemn Israel's actions and order a halt to the Israeli offensive. But no resolution was circulated, apparently because of opposition by the U.S., Israel's closest ally.

Early today, the militants holding the soldier issued a new set of demands, calling on Israel to halt its offensive and ordering the release of 1,000 prisoners, including non-Palestinian Muslims and Arabs. The gesture appeared to be aimed at boosting support in the broader Arab world.


Palestinian supporters of Islamic Jihad chant slogans as they burn a likeness of an Israeli flag during a protest against Israeli army operations Friday in Gaza City.

Palestinian supporters of Islamic Jihad chant slogans as they burn a likeness of an Israeli flag during a protest against Israeli army operations Friday in Gaza City.

The demands were laid out in a joint statement by the militant wing of the ruling Hamas party, and two smaller militant groups with close ties to Hamas - the Popular Resistance Committees and the Army of Islam. The three groups have claimed responsibility for Sunday's abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid.

"Despite the efforts of the mediators, who quietly tried to quickly resolve this humanitarian case, the enemy and its political leadership is still under the influence of their military and security commanders, who know nothing but the language of invasion, destruction and killing," the statement said.

The statement repeated a demand made earlier this week calling for the release of all Palestinian women and minors held by Israel in exchange for information about Shalit. Today's statement, like the earlier one, did not promise to release the soldier or give any information about his condition.

Israeli officials believe he suffered slight wounds, but is still alive. Israel has ruled out a prisoner swap.

A Palestinian supporter of the Islamic group Hamas marches Friday with others during a rally supporting the group in the Jebaliya Refugee Camp. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that Israel's offensive in Gaza was part of a premeditated plan to bring down the Hamas-led government, but Palestinian leaders were working to end the standoff.

A Palestinian supporter of the Islamic group Hamas marches Friday with others during a rally supporting the group in the Jebaliya Refugee Camp. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that Israel's offensive in Gaza was part of a premeditated plan to bring down the Hamas-led government, but Palestinian leaders were working to end the standoff.

Haniyeh urged his people to remain steadfast. Though he did not directly address Israel's demand that militants hand over the abducted soldier, he implied the government would not trade him for eight Palestinian Cabinet ministers detained by Israel on Thursday.

He also accused Israel of using the abduction as a pretext for launching an offensive with the aim of bringing down his government.

"This total war is proof of a premeditated plan," he said.

Haniyeh spoke in a sermon at a Gaza mosque on Friday, the Muslim day of worship, as Hamas gunmen stood guard outside. It was his first public appearance since Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, was captured Sunday in a militant raid on an army post in Israel that sparked the crisis and sent Hamas' top leaders into hiding.

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