Hamas Building Barriers to Stave Off IDF Forces

The soldiers in the ill-fated tank, from which two were killed and one was kidnapped, had advance warning of that type of attack. Israeli forces are still deployed at the entrances to Gaza. <BR><br/><BR><br/>

Hillel Fendel, | updated: 11:32

An initial IDF investigation, which includes questioning of the 4th soldier in the tank from his hospital bed, shows that there had been a specific warning of a tunnel that had been dug in the area of Kerem Shalom.

In addition, the two soldiers who were killed - Lt. Chanan Barak and Sgt. Pavel Slotzker - were forced out of the tank while they were alive, and were shot from point-blank range.

The Maariv newspaper, reporting first on the initial IDF findings, says that the Hamas Authority militia men fired an RPG (rocket propelled grenade) at the tank, causing partial damage. They then apparently climbed through the turret and forced the two soldiers out. The soldiers were apparently immobilized, physically or otherwise, by the RPG missile, and therefore unable to fight or shoot back. Corp. Gilad Shalit was apparently only lightly hurt, and was dragged across the border into Gaza by the terrorists.

Miraculously, the fourth soldier - Ro'i Amitai from Lod - whose turn it was to sleep at the time, and who was sitting in the driver's seat, was apparently not seen by the attackers. He remained in the tank, and was seriously wounded by the two grenades they threw inside. He is listed in serious condition, with wounds from smoke inhalation and shrapnel.

Soldiers serving in the area told Maariv that in recent weeks, their commanders had warned them of terrorist intentions to dig a tunnel into Israel and kidnap a soldier. The forces were placed on high alert, but on Shabbat, the day before the Sunday attack, it was learned that two leading Hamas terrorists had been taken captive by Israel, and therefore the alert was removed and regular routine was restored.

Army sources informed the missing soldier's parents, Noam and Aviva Shalit of Mitzpeh Hila in the Galilee, that their son Gilad has a broken leg and a stomach wound.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that despite preliminary Hamas demands for the release of women and young terrorist prisoners from Israeli jails, this is not on Israel's agenda. He ordered the army to prepare for a large-scale invasion or incursion into Gaza, and added last night that time is running out before he gives the go-ahead. Olmert further threatened to shut down infrastructures such as gas and water to the Gaza Strip.

PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas has been in touch with Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, trying to have him free the Israeli soldier. Abbas told him that the abduction might cause Israel not only to enter Gaza, but also to target Haniyeh personally. Hamas, for its part, threatens that Israel will suffer "many casualties" if it attacks Gaza. Gaza military forces have raised dirt barriers along roads in an attempt to stop the Israelis.

A poll of Gaza residents shows that a full 82% favor returning the Israeli soldier home only in exchange for prisoners held in Israel. Only 6% say he should be returned unconditionally.

A sharp disagreement is being waged within the far-left Meretz party. MK Zahava Gal'on had called for the release of prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, as demanded by Hamas, and MK Ran Cohen agreed. Their party colleague MK Avshalom Vilan, however, strongly criticized them, saying, "Talk of release of prisoners at this time is irresponsible, and hurts the chances of releasing the kidnapped soldier."

It is feared that the kidnappers may try to smuggle him out of Gaza into Egypt or by sea. Israel has tightened its maritime siege along the 38-kilometer Gaza coastline, and is employing drones to closely monitoring the Gaza-Egyptian border, with Egyptian cooperation.

Egypt has also deployed 2,500 soldiers and policemen along its border with Gaza to prevent a flood of refugees from Gaza in the event of an Israeli invasion, which Israel continues to threaten.

The U.S., France, the European Union and others have called on Hamas to immediately free Gilad Shalit. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has called for calm and efforts to prevent an escalation.