Israel is threatening harsh retaliation after Palestinian militants kidnapped an Israeli soldier near the Gaza Strip. Three Palestinian militant groups have demanded that Israel release all jailed Palestinian women under 18, in exchange for information about a kidnapped Israeli soldier
Palestinian politicians and militants appear to be divided over the fate of the soldier.
Israel has given the Palestinians an ultimatum: release the kidnapped soldier within 48 hours, or face the wrath of the Israeli army.
"I have ordered military commanders to prepare for a major operation" in Gaza," said Prime Minster Ehud Olmert. He said Israel would strike hard at terrorist organizations and their commanders.
"No one will be immune," he added.
Israel is threatening to target the leaders of the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas because gunmen from the group took part in the raid on an army base, in which the soldier was kidnapped. Eight militants infiltrated Israel through a tunnel under the Gaza border fence, blew up a tank, and seized the 19-year-old corporal.
The Hamas-led Palestinian government, already hit hard by U.S. and European sanctions because of its refusal to renounce violence, distanced itself from the attack. It urged the captors of the soldier not to harm him.
"We ask the Palestinian factions to keep him alive, and to deal with him with good way," he said.
Hamas political leaders are said to be seeking the immediate release of the soldier, but the military wing of the group may have other ideas. In the past, militants have used captured Israeli soldiers as bargaining chips for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.