IDF armored vehicles approach the Gaza Strip from southern Israel early Monday; photo courtesy of AP
(Gaza) Three Palestinian militant groups holding Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit gave Israel a one-day deadline to meet their demands to free Palestinian prisoners, or they will "consider the matter closed."
The factions, among them the armed wing of the governing Hamas Islamist group, have given Israel until 6 am Tuesday (11 pm EDT US) to meet their demands.
The statement, which was signed by the Hamas' Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the Popular Resistance Committees and the Islamic Army said the state of Israel would "bear full responsibility for future consequences" if it failed to meet the deadline.
Israel rejected the ultimatum, as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said his government would not bow to what he called "extortion."
Meanwhile, the European Union today urged Israel to free arrested Hamas officials - including eight Cabinet ministers and 26 politicians - and to show restraint in its Gaza military campaign.
The Swiss Foreign Ministry spoke out against the military operations conducted by the IDF.
"A number of actions by the Israeli defense forces in their offensive against the Gaza Strip have violated the principle of proportionality and are to be seen as forms of collective punishment, which is forbidden," the ministry noted in a statement. "There is no doubt that Israel has not taken the precautions required of it in international law to protect the civilian population and infrastructure."
Electrical power has been severed to hundreds of thousands of residents in Gaza, and humanitarian organizations fear that there will soon be no tap water for many of the Strip's 1.4 million residents.