Left: Abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, courtesy of Reuters
(Tel Aviv) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave the Hamas government of Palestine 48 hours to bring about the return of a captured Israeli soldier, or face what he described as a "comprehensive and protracted operation."
Olmert also said he held the entire Palestinian leadership responsible for the safety of the soldier, tank gunner Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was seized in a cross-border raid early Sunday. Two other Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack on outposts.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the attack was a joint operation between his organization, the Popular Resistance Committees, and a group calling itself the Islamic Army.
Zuhri said the coordinated action was revenge for Israel's "massacre of our children and for its assassination of Popular Resistance Committees leader, Jamal Abu Samhadana."
Neither side seems likely to back down at this juncture, as the stakes have been raised to such a level that any concessions are likely to be viewed as a sign of weakness. Without immediate intervention from neutral diplomats, I can forsee no outcome beyond the war-like scenario hinted at by Olmert.
The Hamas government, already reeling from the US-led effort to deprive the infusion of cash to the Palestinian authority, may view the attacks as a way to unify Palestinian factions in the face of an imminent Israeli threat. If Hamas caves in to the Israeli demand - a big "if," as political chaos in Palestine is high at the moment - the party will be seen as traitors by many of their supporters.
Israel, on the other hand, cannot idly sit back and allow its troops to be attacked without reprisal. Olmert and his Kadima party can ill afford to be accused of being soft on terror by right wing war hawks in the Knesset.
About 40 hours remain before the deadline passes.