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Israeli Troops Launch Gaza Offensive

Israeli military officials say the army has launched a ground offensive in southern Gaza following the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier.

The movement of troops follows a series of Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip, including raids on several bridges in central Gaza and the Palestinian territory's main power station, knocking out electricity in much of the coastal strip.

The Israeli army said the strikes on the bridges were meant to prevent the kidnappers from moving the hostage.

Israeli has massed several thousand troops and armored vehicles along the Gaza border and closed down all checkpoints around the territory.

Meanwhile, one of the Palestinian militant groups that abducted the soldier, Popular Resistance Committees confirmed to the Associated Press Tuesday that the soldier is still alive. However, the group said it will not release him without something in return.

The militants have demanded Israel release all female Palestinian prisoners.

The United States and the European Union are urging the two sides to rely on diplomacy, not violence, to resolve the issue.

Tuesday, Palestinian officials said rival factions Hamas and Fatah have reached agreement on a statehood plan that implicitly recognizes Israel.

However, the plan calls for continuing attacks against Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank. Further details of the plan are not clear.

Israel has dismissed the announced deal as an internal Palestinian affair.

The international community has called on the Hamas-led government to recognize Israel, renounce violence and respect agreements signed by previous Palestinian administrations.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.