haniyeh waiting 298.
(photo credit: AP)
In his first public address since Israel began its offensive into the Gaza Strip, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas on Friday said his government would not cave into Israeli demands but said he was working hard to end a five-day-old crisis with Israel.
For Jerusalem Online video coverage of the day's events click here.
Though Haniyeh did not directly address Israel's demand that Palestinian terrorists hand over abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, he implied that the government would not trade him for eight Cabinet ministers and 56 other Hamas officials arrested on Thursday.
"When they kidnapped the ministers they meant to hijack the government's position, but we say no positions will be hijacked, no governments will fall," he said.
A few hours before Haniyeh spoke, Israel's Air Force destroyed the offices of his interior ministry in Gaza, intensifying an air invasion while delaying a broad ground offensive in hopes that pressure on the Hamas government will secure the release of the kidnapped soldier.
Israeli officials said they did not know of such an agreement. But a senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the secrecy of the diplomacy, said the planned ground offensive had been delayed due to a request by Egypt that mediators be given a chance to resolve the crisis.
However, other officials denied the delay was due to Egypt, saying it reflected Israel's overall management of the crisis, which they said required both military pressure and withholding force when necessary.
Haniyeh said Friday that he was in contact with Arab, Muslim and European leaders to try to resolve the crisis, "but this Israeli military escalation complicates matters and makes it more difficult." He also accused Israel of using Shalit's abduction as a pretext for launching a major offensive aimed at bringing down his government.
"This total war is proof of a premeditated plan," he said.
Mohammed Nazal, a Damascus-based member of the Hamas politburo, told The Associated Press on Friday that Israel is not serious about negotiating Shalit's release.
"Israel is negotiating by fire," he said. "They're buying time until they can locate the soldier through intelligence and then try to free him."