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Monday, July 03, 2006

Nation Tormented As History Repeats Itself

The Sydney Morning Herald
july 4, 2006

GAZA CITY: The kidnappers of the young Israeli soldier knew his comrades would be searching for him, and that the end would come quickly if their safe house was discovered.

So their Palestinian commanders gave out special instructions, a former Hamas leader recalled as he described the 1994 kidnapping of Corporal Nachshon Waxman.

"If there's any movement around the house, your first step is to kill the soldier … don't think about your life," said Imad Falouji, one of the Hamas leaders negotiating in secret with the then prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin.

When Israel located Corporal Waxman, commandos stormed the West Bank safe house. By the time they reached the second-floor room where the Israeli-American was tied to a chair, the soldier had a bullet in his neck and in his chest. He was dead.

As Israel agonises over the capture of 19-year-old Corporal Gilad Shalit, the kidnapping of Corporal Waxman almost 12 years ago could offer some answers to what may lie ahead. Or it could prove a harsh lesson in what not to do. Some, including Mr Falouji, believe the circumstances of the two kidnappings are so similar that Corporal Shalit's fate is inevitable.

Mr Falouji said it was almost certain that Corporal Shalit has had a gun to his head 24 hours a day since he was taken on June 25.

In October 1994, the kidnapping of Corporal Waxman gripped Israel for six days. In a video, the terrified soldier had asked Mr Rabin to free prisoners including the jailed founder of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

Like the current prime minister, Ehud Olmert, Mr Rabin had publicly ruled out negotiations with the kidnappers. Behind the scenes, he used an Arab-Israeli member of the Israeli parliament as an intermediary with Falouji and Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader who is now the Palestinian Foreign Minister.

The word came that Mr Rabin would free Sheik Yassin after Corporal Waxman was released. Hamas agreed to extend the deadline for executing the soldier by 24 hours. That gave the Israeli military timeto learn the soldier was in a house in Bir Naballah.

After the raid, the house became something of a shrine for Corporal Waxman's parents, Esther and Yehuda. For Esther Waxman, 59, the events of the past week have brought fresh pain. "It's an identical situation," she said in Jerusalem. "All we can do is pray that this story has a different ending."

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