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Monday, June 26, 2006


Gaza City, 26 June (AKI) - Gaza-based diplomats involved in intensive negotiations to secure the release of an Israeli soldier abducted by Palestinian gunmen have told an Israeli newspaper the soldier is in "good condition". The diplomats also said they knew both where the soldier, Gilad Shalit, was being held, and the organizational affiliation of those holding him, but refused to relay the information to Tel Aviv daily, Haaretz.

Palestinian gunmen used an 800-metre-long tunnel to attack an Israeli military post near the Kerem Shalom kibbutz in southern Israel just after dawn on Sunday, killing two soldiers and abducting Shalit. On Monday Israeli troops blew up the tunnel with explosives, ensuring that it cannot be used for similar attacks in the future.

"Gilad's kidnappers have promised they are giving him good treatment. He is wounded, but he is in good health," the diplomats said on Sunday, adding they had succeeded in locating the group holding the kidnapped soldier and that they "hope he will be released as quickly as possible."

The sources did say that they are in contact with the heads of Hamas' military wing, Ahmed al-Jaabri and Ahmed Randor, in attempts to convince them to release Shalit. The Hamas military wing shared responsibility for the attack with the Popular Resistance Committees and a largely unknown group called the Army of Islam.

Meanwhile, Israel appears to be preparing a major military incursion into Gaza in an attempt to free Shalit if the negotiations were to fail.

A large IDF force of infantry backed by tanks continued to ring Gaza on Monday.

Among those involved in the negoatiations are Egyptian intelligence officials who on Sunday held contacts with the head of Hamas' political bureau, the Syrian-based Khaled Meshal, who, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and other senior Fatah officials view as responsible for the attack.

Hamas' deputy premier, Nasser al Shaer, called on Shalit's kidnappers to release him immediately. PA government spokesman Razi Hamed, a Hamas official, voiced hope on Sunday that the kidnapping could be brought to a peaceful end.

"We are holding contacts with many officials, with the Egyptians, with all the Palestinian elements," he told Israeli Army Radio, speaking in Hebrew.

"We are continuing to deal with this matter, and I hope that we will reach a solution that will be good for us all."

During the Sunday night Israeli cabinet meeting, some ministers including vice-premier Shimon Peres, urged the Israeli military to respond with restraint to the attack. However, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert reportedly responded, "The age of restraint has come to an end... We will respond forcefully, with an operation that will last more than a day or two."
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