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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Tuesday called on the kidnappers of IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit to keep him alive and treat him well. The appeal, the first of its kind since the abduction, came shortly after an ultimatum set by the kidnappers expired at 6 a.m.
[For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here]
Speaking at a meeting of the Hamas cabinet in Gaza City, Haniyeh said: "The Palestinian government has, from the first moment, emphasized the need to preserve the life of the Zionist soldier and treat him well. The government is exerting efforts with Palestinian, Arab and regional parties to end this case in a proper and suitable manner."
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Haniyeh warned, however, that Israel's military actions and threats would complicate matters and deepen the crisis. "My government calls for pursuing political and diplomatic steps and to keep the door open for resolving the crisis," he said. "This is not just a political issue, but a humanitarian one as well."
Haniyeh urged Egypt to continue its mediation efforts to resolve the crisis peacefully, saying he highly appreciated Cairo's role.
Despite Haniyeh's conciliatory remarks, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip announced that the kidnappers' representatives have pulled out of the negotiations with Egyptian diplomats and security officials.
Osama al-Mazini, one of the prominent political leaders of Hamas, said the decision was taken "due to the Zionist enemy's intransigence and refusal to accept the conditions of the resistance groups."
He said the case of the soldier would be "put aside and forgotten" now that the ultimatum for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel had expired.
Mazini also hinted that the soldier's life would be at stake once the kidnappers realize that there is no hope of trading him for Palestinian prisoners. "According to Islam, a prisoner must be honored as long as there is hope for a prisoner exchange," he said. "But after the ultimatum expired, all options are open, including peaceful and violent ones."
A spokesman for the kidnappers was quoted by the Palestinian Maan News Agency as saying his men decided to "close the file" of Shalit and would not participate in negotiations with any party over his release.
The spokesman, who identified himself as Abu Muthana, said that despite Israel's refusal to accept the conditions of the kidnappers, Shalit would not be killed. "We are a Muslim nation that does not kill prisoners," he said. "We treat them with respect, unlike Israel."
Also on Tuesday, Hamas warned Israel against assassinating Haniyeh or any other Hamas leader in response to the abduction of Shalit.
In a statement published in Gaza City, Hamas said Israel would bear the consequences of any action against its leaders. "We warn the Zionist enemy against playing with the fire and taking foolish moves," it added, noting that the air raid on Haniyeh's office over the weekend was a "dangerous precedent."
Abu Malek, a leader of the Popular Resistance Committees - one of three groups responsible for the abduction of Shalit - revealed on Tuesday that preparations for the attack on the IDF post south of the Gaza Strip began about six months ago.
He said the attack was carefully planned over a period of four months and that the digging of the underground tunnel used by the attackers continued for six months.