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Hamas said on Sunday that its military wing plans to kidnap IDF soldiers if Israel decides to conduct a large-scale ground-invasion of the Gaza Strip.
Spokesperson of the Popular Resistance Committees, identified as "Abu Abir," made the belligerent statements in response to IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi's suggestion earlier Sunday to begin a large-scale ground operation in the Gaza Strip. Ashkenazi, speaking at Sunday's cabinet meeting, said that sending in ground forces was the only means to stop the firing of Kassam rockets into Israel.
In an interview with A Shams radio station, the spokesman said "we are waiting to meet the enemy in Gaza so that we can kidnap more soldiers. If the enemy comes into Gaza, he should be afraid, his Merkava tanks will turn to rubble."
Meanwhile, a top Egyptian security official launched a scathing attack on Palestinian armed groups on Sunday for continuing to fire rockets at Israel and warned that the Palestinians will pay a heavy price if the IDF invades the Gaza Strip.
The statements by Gen. Burhan Hammad of the Egyptian General Intelligence Force drew sharp criticism from some of the armed groups in Gaza.
Elsewhere, Syria-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal also announced that his movement was planning to kidnap more Israeli soldiers, with the intention of trading them for Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
Addressing supporters in a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus, he said: "Hamas is determined to release all the Palestinian prisoners, whether by capturing more Israeli soldiers or through other means.
"[IDF Cpl.] Gilad Schalit will not be released unless Israel frees all the prisoners and detainees. We won't release the soldier until they pay the price that we are demanding. Israel will only yield under pressure because this enemy understands only the language of force."
Hammad and other Egyptian intelligence officers have been trying to arrange a cease-fire between the Palestinians and Israel. He is the personal representative of Gen. Omar Suleiman, head of the General Intelligence Force.
This is the first time Hammad has publicly criticized the Palestinians for the rocket attacks.
"The firing of rockets at Israel is a gamble that harms the Palestinian people," he said. "It could lead to a violent Israeli response that will destroy the infrastructure of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and result in the death of many Palestinian civilians."
Hammad called on the Palestinian groups to show responsibility and put the interests and safety of their people above all other considerations.
He said the rocket attacks were diverting attention from efforts by Egypt to improve the living conditions of the Palestinians, lift financial sanctions and arrange a prisoner exchange.
"We are too busy trying to prevent an Israeli attack," he said. "We urge all Palestinian factions to exercise self-restraint and to halt the rocket attacks. Egypt is making a huge effort to prevent an Israeli invasion that would cause grave damage to the Palestinians and embarrass the Palestinian Authority."
Abu Obadiah, spokesman for Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin Kassam, condemned Hammad's comments as unfair and unbalanced.
"We reject these statements and we call upon all those who are unable to defend the Palestinians to step aside and leave the Palestinians to defend themselves on their own," he said. "What are the Egyptians doing to stop attempts to extort and starve the Palestinians? We only hear their voice when they want to attack the Palestinian resistance and hold us responsible for an Israeli aggression."
Abu Obaidah also criticized Egypt for siding with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction in their power struggle with Hamas.
"Where were the Egyptians when the US sent money and weapons to those who tried to overthrow a democratically elected government?" he asked. "And where was Egypt when Israel attacked our lands and people and killed our leaders?"
Yahya Musa, a Hamas legislator from the Gaza Strip, attacked Egypt and other Arab countries for pressuring the Palestinians to stop the rocket attacks. "We were hoping the Arabs would exert pressure on Israel to halt its massacres against the Palestinians instead of putting pressure on us," he said. "As a people living under occupation, we are entitled to defend ourselves and resist the enemy."
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah held an unannounced meeting Sunday with Abbas to discuss the recent escalation in Israeli-Palestinian tensions, a Palestinian official said.
During Sunday's meeting, Abbas updated the Saudi king on the deteriorating security situation in the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian official in Riyadh said.
The Palestinian official said the two Arab leaders discussed "how to re-establish security (in Gaza) and reactivate the cease-fire."
AP contributed to this report.
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