fatah militia 298 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
The Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in all hospitals in the Gaza Strip for fear that Israel would launch a military operation to rescue kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
The announcement came as Palestinians in Gaza began preparing for a massive Israeli military operation by planting roadside bombs and car bombs along major routes. Gunmen belonging to various groups took positions on rooftops, while others were seen barricading themselves behind sandbags and concrete slabs.
Spokesmen for Hamas and Fatah militiamen said they had deployed thousands of their men in the streets to repel any Israeli attack, vowing to turn the Gaza Strip into a "graveyard for the Israeli army."
Egyptian diplomats and security officials who have been trying to secure the release of Shalit on Tuesday expressed disappointment with Hamas and other armed groups for refusing to cooperate. A top Egyptian diplomat involved in the negotiations that have been taking place in the Gaza Strip since last Sunday said all attempts to establish direct contact with the kidnappers had failed.
"I'm not sure we've been talking to the right people," he said. "Apparently, the political leadership of Hamas does not have any connection with the kidnappers." Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak later phoned PA President Mahmoud Abbas and urged him to exert heavy pressure on Hamas and other armed groups to release the soldier and avoid an Israeli military response.
A source close to Abbas said the PA security forces were "doing their best" to find the soldier. The source warned that an Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip would only complicate matters and endanger the soldier's life.
The Hamas government on Tuesday urged the international community to intervene with Israel to prevent a large-scale military operation. The government blamed Israel for the latest escalation, noting that several civilians had been killed in recent weeks by Israel.
Mahmoud Ramahi, secretary-general of the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Legislative Council, claimed that Israel had sent "secret messages" to Hamas about the kidnapped soldier.
Ramahi refused to elaborate, but added: "Israel has opened secret channels with Hamas to discuss the possibility of a prisoner swap. Only yesterday they contacted us about this issue."
Meanwhile, Fatah and Hamas leaders announced on Tuesday they had reached an agreement to form a new government within the next two weeks. Sources in Ramallah said the timing of the announcement was not coincidental and was aimed at easing tensions between Hamas and Fatah ahead of a possible Israeli military raid in the Gaza Strip.
The latest deal was reached after the two sides agreed to change some of the articles of a document drafted by leaders of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. The most significant change was made with regard to future attacks on Israel.
The original document called for "restricting" attacks on Israelis to the territories captured by Israel in 1967. The revised document, however, calls for "focusing" the attacks on these territories, implying that the Palestinian groups could still carry out attacks inside Israel proper.
Although the document calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, it does not talk about a two-state solution or Israel's right to exist.
Fatah and Hamas leaders said the agreement still requires the approval of Palestinian Authority Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. The two were expected to meet again later Tuesday to sign the agreement.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri denied reports that the revised document recognizes Israel's right to exist. "We agreed to all the articles of the document without having to recognize Israel," he explained. "This is a major achievement for Hamas because the agreement also allows us to pursue the resistance against Israel."
A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office characterized the document as a "non-starter." He said that the document is an internal Palestinian matter that may have political importance for the Palestinians, but changes nothing vis- -vis Israel's relationship toward the Hamas-led PA.
"For us this changes nothing," the official said. "We will only negotiate with the Palestinian government that adheres to the three principles accepted by the international community." The Quartet has said that it will only grant legitimacy and deal with the PA government if it recognizes Israel, forswears violence, and accepts previous agreements.
"This document falls short of meeting our elementary demands," the official said. "Hamas is under great pressure from within Palestinian society. It needs money for PA operations, so they are making all sorts of gestures, but they don't mean anything."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said, "it is a pity and tragedy that on a day that the entire international community was expecting the responsible Palestinian leadership to facilitate the speedy release of Cpl. Shalit, that energy was invested in this document."
The Shalit crisis, he said, "casts a shadow over everything else. If responsible Palestinian leadership facilitates his release that would create a positive momentum that would be an important confidence building measure that could serve to energize the political discussion." As to whether this means that if Shalit were released, the document would be seen as a step forward, Regev replied, "No unfortunately it is more double talk."
Fatah legislator Azzam al-Ahmed said that under the terms of the agreement between Hamas and Fatah, the two sides committed themselves to the establishment of a "national unity government" within the next two weeks. He refused to say whether Abbas was planning to call off a referendum over the prisoners' document slated for late July.