Egypt has asked Hamas to release kidnapped IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit and has deployed 2,500 extra troops along its border with Gaza, officials said Tuesday - in a sign of how worried Arab countries have become about possible fallout from the latest Israel-Palestinian crisis.
Egypt's chief of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, urged the leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal, who is in exile in Syria, to push for the release of Shalit, who was seized by Palestinians operatives in a raid from Gaza on Sunday, the Egyptian officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the issue involves sensitive security matters.
Israel has massed tanks and soldiers on its Gaza frontier and threatened to move into the territory unless the soldier is released. It has also closed its crossings with the Gaza Strip, stopping all movement of people and goods.
An Israeli incursion into Gaza would be likely to cause large numbers of Palestinians to flee to northern Egypt, where many have family members.
Earlier Tuesday, the London-based al-Hayat
newspaper reported Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas warned PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh that Israel would target him, PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud a-Zahar and PA Interior Minister Said Siam if Shalit
was not released.
PA spokesman Ghazi Hamad said that there were no negotiations between Israel and Hamas and that an IDF invasion of the Gaza Strip would prevent a "peaceful end" to the kidnapping episode.
Meanwhile, Palestinian bulldozers on Tuesday blocked roads in northern Gaza with sand piles, bracing for a possible IDF invasion. The bulldozers, operated by Palestinian groups, left small spaces in the sand piles to allow cars to pass slowly.
"We are ready to confront any stupid act that the Zionists might commit," said Abu Obeida, spokesman for Hamas' military wing. "We are well prepared and God willing, we are not going to welcome them with flowers."
Also Tuesday, the Lebanese representative of Hamas, Osama Hamdan, said Palestinian groups should seize more Israeli soldiers to exchange for the Palestinians detained by Israel.
Hamdan told a Lebanese TV channel: "I believe the resistance (fighters) should not be content with taking one Israeli soldier as a prisoner. They should develop this kind of operation and seek to capture more soldiers, and perhaps officers, so that the occupation realizes that our prisoners will not die and rot in jail."
"No one should think that the issue could be solved in 48 hours or 72 hours. The matter needs time," he told Al-Manar TV, Hizbullah's television station.
Hamdan referred to Hizbullah's managing to trade hostages, or bodies, with Israel after long-running negotiations. The Lebanese group has managed on several occasions to trade Israelis or the bodies of Israeli soldiers for Lebanese prisoners detained in Israeli jails.
He said Sunday's abduction should be seen as a new tactic.
"Today, the occupation should realize that following the success of this operation, the taking of prisoners will become a method for the Palestinian resistance," Hamdan added. "Today there is hope in Palestinian eyes that their prisoners would be freed."
Aides close to Abbas, who leads the rival Fatah party, have alleged that Mashaal ordered the attack without consulting the Hamas-led government in the Palestinian territories.
Hamdan, who is close to the Damascus-based Mashaal, denied any rifts within Hamas, saying: "There is no crisis within the movement. There is an internal debate."
"We know where we are heading," he added.