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Monday, July 03, 2006

Group Claims Islamic Law Guides Them Not To Kill Shalit

Earlier, the 'Army of Islam' vowed not to release any new information that will give the "occupation good news or reassurance."

"We will not kill the soldier since the principles of Islam command us to treat prisoners with respect," a spokesman for one of the groups that kidnapped Gilad Shalit said on Tuesday, three hours after the ultimatum to release Palestinian prisoners, which was rejected by Israel, expired.

Earlier, the group vowed not to release any new information about Shalit.

--> It could be a miracle, if its true. However, this information needs to be confirmed. If it is substantiated, then Israel needs to be pressured to resolve the other issues on the table immediately, and Israel needs to restate its position and goals that are necessary for it to achieve in order to release Palestinians and withdraw from Gaza so that humanitarian efforts can ensue.

Abu Muthana, the spokesman of "the Army of Islam" announced shortly after the 6 a.m. deadline expired. He would not say whether the soldier is dead or alive. "We will not give any information that will give the occupation good news or reassurance," he told The Associated Press.

The Army of Islam was unheard of before the soldier was captured on June 25.

Nevertheless, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Tuesday that Israel and the Palestinians were close to an agreement over the kidnapped soldier.

Reportedly, the soldier would be returned to Israel, via Egyptian or French mediators, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Additionally, in exchange for the IDF halting its operations in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian organizations would apparently agree to stop rocket attacks on Israel.

Meanwhile, according to government officials, Israel would continue its ongoing military operation against Hamas as if there were no ultimatum, and has warned key international players that the military action will be escalated if Shalit is killed.

One senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said Monday that the IDF's ongoing military operation would not be impacted by the ultimatum.

The ultimatum triggered warnings by various cabinet ministers of fierce Israeli action if Shalit were harmed.

"If, God forbid, they should hurt the soldier, our operations will be far worse," Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Channel 2. Interior Minister Roni Bar-On told Y-Net that "the kidnappers will pay a price they have not yet paid if they harm the soldier."

In Moscow, meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, during a 90-minute meeting with Russian President Vladimr Putin that was dominated by this crisis, said there was a "potential for regional deterioration" unless the international community applied pressure "decisively and immediately." Similar messages, according to diplomatic officials, were passed on during the day to Washington and to various European capitals.

Livni, according to sources in her office, said that Syrian President Bashar Assad and Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal were the main actors behind the scenes, and needed to be the focus of international pressure.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz also continued shining the spotlight on Syria, telling a Labor faction meeting in the Knesset Monday, "We suggest that Assad, who is trying to operate with his eyes shut, open his eyes, because he is responsible. We will know how to strike those who are involved."

Shalit's captors gave Israel a 24-hour ultimatum to start releasing some 1,500 prisoners, and implied that they would kill him if he was not released. Later Monday they said they would issue another announcement when that ultimatum expired.

"We give the Zionist enemy until 6:00 tomorrow morning, Tuesday, July 4," the three groups that seized Shalit said in a statement posted on a Hamas Web site and faxed to news agencies.

If Israel doesn't comply with the demands, "we will consider the soldier's case to be closed," the statement said, an apparent reference to killing him. "And then the enemy must bear all the consequences of the future results."

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing, said Israel must at least begin freeing the women and minors.

"Israel must understand that the resistance factions are serious in this matter. They will close this case if [Israel] doesn't deal with the demands," he said, adding that there would be no compromise.

The government, however, unequivocally rejected the demands.

Following consultations with top security officials, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert issued a statement that read, "Israel will not give in to extortion by the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government, which are led by murderous terrorist organizations. We will not conduct any negotiations on the release of prisoners. The Palestinian Authority bears full responsibility for the welfare of Gilad Shalit and for returning him safe and sound to Israel."

Israeli intelligence officials said the ultimatum was likely issued Monday morning because the kidnappers feared they would be discovered and that the IDF would launch a hostage retrieval operation.

Since Shalit's abduction last Sunday, the IDF has said he is in the Gaza Strip but has said it did not know his exact location. According to intelligence experts, the longer the standoff in Gaza continues, the easier it would be to locate the kidnappers and their hideaway.

Livni, who spoke with Olmert before meeting Putin and is in close consultation with the prime minister, spoke at length about the agony of Shalit's family, the killing last week of Eliahu Asheri and the situation in Sderot. She also met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russia's Security Council head Igor Ivanov.

During these talks, according to her office, Livni said that Israel had shown restraint up until now, but that it would "not put up with the situation much longer."

At a press conference after meeting Lavrov, Livni, in an apparent jibe at Russia for meeting with Hamas representatives soon after they won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January, said, "If someone still had any doubts about the character of Hamas, the recent events have demonstrated that the government claims responsibility for terrorist attacks and strives to conduct negotiations concerning those terrorist attacks with Israel."

"Elections are not some kind of a washing machine whereby a terrorist organization can wash itself. Terror is terror," she said.

he Kremlin issued a statement saying that Putin had called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after the Livni meeting, and that the Russian president said Moscow "will do everything in its power to promote the swiftest possible normalization of the situation in the Palestinian territories." Lavrov, meanwhile, called for Shalit's release and an end to attacks on Israeli cities, while urging Israel to show restraint in its offensive in Gaza.

"The main thing now is to have the Israeli soldier freed. We are trying to facilitate this through every channel we have," Lavrov said at a press conference after meeting Livni.

Lavrov said it was necessary to "by all means stop the spiral of violence, which requires restraint and wisdom."

The EU, meanwhile, issued a statement Monday saying that said it was "extremely concerned about the situation which has evolved over the last days between Israel and the Palestinians and calls on all parties to abstain from any actions that are in violation of international law. It calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier."

The statement condemned Asheri's murder and called on the Palestinians to end terrorism and rocket fire on Israel. At the same time, it expressed its "particular concern about the detention of elected members of the Palestinian government and legislature. Those detained should be accorded their full legal rights."

The statement also "reminds all parties of their responsibility to protect civilian lives. Notwithstanding Israel's legitimate right of self-defense, ongoing military operations should be in accordance with international law."

The statement called on Israel "to exercise the utmost restraint and to avoid disproportionate action." It also regretted "the destruction of essential infrastructure, which contributes to the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza. Restoring electricity and water supplies and access for humanitarian organizations must be a priority now to avoid a humanitarian crisis."

Yaakov Katz and AP contributed to this report


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