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Israel Launches Air and Ground Assault on Gaza

Israel has launched an air and ground assault on the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip. The offensive was prompted by the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier on Sunday.

Israeli tanks rumbled across the border into southern Gaza, while aircraft launched a series of strikes to cripple Palestinian civilian infrastructure. A power station was destroyed, leaving most of the more than one million Palestinian residents without electricity. Since water is pumped with electricity, there is the prospect of a humanitarian crisis. The air force also destroyed three bridges to prevent militants holding the captive Israeli soldier from moving him.

Israel has warned that the offensive will intensify if the 19-year-old corporal is not freed.

Palestinian legislator Saeb Erekat said the targeting of infrastructure is collective punishment.

"I think this is the way for extremism, chaos, lawlessness, violence and counter-violence because military solutions will produce no peace, no security, no sanity, no wisdom for anyone," he said.

Israeli spokesman Gideon Meir says the rules of engagement have changed since Israel ended its 38-year occupation of Gaza last August.

"We withdrew from the Gaza Strip, we dismantled the settlements, not after 10 months to go back to Gaza," he said. "We are there to defend our people and to make sure that our serviceman will come back home safely and alive."

The Palestinian militants holding the Israeli soldier haven't budged. They say the soldier will not be released until hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails go free.

Militants also claim to have kidnapped a Jewish settler in the West Bank and are threatening to kill him if the Israeli offensive continues. The army is taking the threat seriously because a West Bank settler is missing.