CAIRO: Nearly 1 million people are currently being held responsible for the kidnapping of 19-year-old Corporal Gilad Shalit on Sunday, as Israel’s first incursion into the Gaza Strip since last autumn continues to escalate.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that “Israel will not hesitate to carry out extreme action to bring Corporal Shalit back to his family, culminating in a full scale incursion codenamed operation “Summer Rain. Israeli forces crossed Gaza’s northern border last Thursday to begin the search for Corporal Shalit, a search which led to Rafah, where the Ezz El-Din Al-Qassam Brigade, the military wing of Hamas, operates and where Corporal Shalit is supposedly being held.
Gaza’s civilians have begun stocking up on supplies, fearful that gunfights and door-to-door sweeps may begin; many people will be left without water and electricity in the coming weeks until repairs (estimated at LE 90 million) can be made to Gaza’s only power station that was severally damaged by Israeli missiles. The likelihood is that Israel will again become the sole provider of electricity into the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas referred to Israel’s incursion as “collective punishment and a crime against humanity, while Israeli human rights agency B’tselem has said that “Israel would directly breach the Geneva conventions by attacking civilian infrastructure such as the central electricity relay station in south of Gaza City.
Israel has provided prompt reasons for each stage of their incursion; stating that the destroyed bridges were an effort to prevent Corporal Shalit from being transported around the Gaza Strip by militants.
The incursion is similar to a rescue operation conducted in 1994 to find a kidnapped soldier in the West Bank, who died in the raid. As tension mounts and door to door searches begin, there will inevitably be confrontations between Palestinian militants and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).
In this crisis, Egypt’s mediation is crucial, providing diplomatic leverage with the west to take recognition of the emerging crisis in Gaza, whilst providing aid packages and support for refugees entering the country across the Rafah border.
“Egypt is interested in gaining peace between the Palestinians and Israel, but its calls for the release of the corporal will not stop Israel from demolishing houses and attacking civilian targets says Mohammed El Sayed Said of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
“It will become difficult to talk with Palestine if militants bring Corporal Shalit across the Egyptian border and seek to hold him here says Said.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya has stated that he wants to return Corporal Shalit to the IDF, and Israel has claimed that the Corporal’s life is now in the hands of the Palestinian Authority, making it clear who is held responsible attacking the Prime Minister’s offices.
Hamas has become financially isolated, which has plunged the government into a fiscal crisis that is being referred to as a “soft coup by the U.S. and “a diet by Israel. As a result, the public sector has stalled due to a lack of finances, which makes intervention against militant operations extremely difficult. Abbas and the Egyptian authorities are urging Syrian intermediaries, who are being blamed for organising the kidnapping, to negotiate Corporal Shalit’s release.
Said adds that “Egypt’s problem is that if they urge the Palestinian’s to give up their hostage, there is no assurance that Israel will stop the attacks; they are in a very difficult situation.
“The situation will not be resolved in Palestine’s favour; we may see this incursion last longer than a few days if Corporal Shalit cannot be found, says Said.