Palestinians Use Tunnel To Attack Israeli Post

By Scott Wilson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 26, 2006

JERUSALEM, June 25 -- A squad of Palestinian gunmen sneaked through a tunnel beneath Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on Sunday and attacked an army post with grenades, rifles and antitank missiles, killing two Israeli soldiers and kidnapping another.

Two Palestinian gunmen were killed in the pre-dawn raid, the most ambitious against an Israeli military target since Israel evacuated Gaza last fall. At least four Israeli soldiers were wounded in the clash, which brought Israeli tanks and bulldozers about a half-mile inside the Gaza border to scour the desert terrain and the half-mile long tunnel beneath for the missing soldier.

Until the Sunday incursion, only small Israeli commando forces had entered Gaza on two operations since the evacuation. Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, chief of the Israeli military, said during a news conference hours after the raid that information suggested the soldier remains alive.

"There is no doubt that this caught us by surprise, in certain aspects," Halutz said. "I don't want to voice conclusive remarks on the future, as I believe we should first investigate things to the end. We must, of course, accept the instructions from the political echelon and then decide what to do."

Several Palestinian groups asserted responsibility for the operation, whose sophistication resembled ones staged by the Lebanese militia Hezbollah along Israel's northern border. In the past, those raids have resulted in the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, who are often used as leverage to gain the release of Palestinians being held in Israeli jails.

Israeli military officials identified the kidnapped soldier as Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, from the Galilee region of northern Israel, who began his military service less than a year ago.

The last known kidnapping of a soldier by a Palestinian armed group was in 1994. The Israeli government said Cpl. Nachson Waxman, 19, was taken by the Islamic group Hamas and died during a rescue operation.

Military officials said Sunday's raid involved eight gunmen dressed in Israeli army uniforms who divided into three assault groups once they infiltrated near the Kerem Shalom crossing, where the borders of Israel, Egypt and Gaza meet.

Among the attackers were members of the Izzadeen al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, whose leaders control the Palestinian government. In his remarks, Halutz said, "Hamas is involved in this matter from head to foot."

The Popular Resistance Committees and a previously unknown group calling itself the Army of Islam also participated in the attack.

Spokesmen for the groups in Gaza said the raid was a response to the Israeli airstrike on a militia training camp in southern Gaza earlier this month that killed Jamal Abu Samhadanah, the leader of the Popular Resistance Committees who last month was named director general of the Hamas-run Interior Ministry.

Later in the day, the groups disclosed that the soldier, Shalit, had been wounded in the stomach and chest but that he was strong enough to have been led without assistance.

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