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Palestinian Militants Tunnel into Outpost and Kill Two

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Palestinian gunmen from Gaza infiltrated into Israel early today through a tunnel under a border fence and attacked an Israel Army post. Two Israeli solders were killed and one was kidnapped. At least two of the Palestinian gunmen were killed.

Israeli ground troops entered Gaza hours later, searching for the kidnapped soldiers. NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

The small Popular Resistance Committees claimed responsibility for the attack near the Kerem Shalom Crossing from Gaza into Israel, and said it was a joint operation with Hamas, which now runs the Palestinian government, and a previously unknown group calling itself the Islam Army.

Israeli Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, said Hamas bears responsibility for the fate of the kidnapped soldier, and that Israel believes he is still alive.

Speaking at today's cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, is responsible for the attack.

Prime Minister EHUD OLMERT (Israel): (Through translator) This was a very serious Hamas terrorist attack. Israel holds the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian government responsible for the incident, with everything that implies.

GRADSTEIN: Israel's Army radio reported Israeli generals had convened to discuss the possibility of a large-scale ground operation into Gaza. Israel dismantled all of the Jewish settlements in Gaza and withdrew from the densely populated Strip last August.

Palestinian leader Abbas condemned today's attack on the Army outpost and called on the militants to release the kidnapped Israeli soldier. The Palestinian infiltration into Israel comes at a time of heightened tensions over Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli towns and Israeli air strikes on Gaza that have killed 13 Palestinian civilians in recent weeks.

Palestinians also blame Israel for an explosion at a Gaza beach two weeks ago that killed eight civilians, but Israel denies it was responsible. After that incident, Hamas announced it was abandoning a 16-month-old ceasefire with Israel.

In Gaza, Palestinian journalist Mohammed Wahidi says residents are stocking up on food, fearing a large-scale Israeli invasion of Gaza. He says today's attack on an Israeli Army post is a direct challenge to Palestinian leader Abbas, who last week met the Israeli Prime Minister in Jordan.

Mr. MOHAMMED WAHIDI (Palestinian Journalist): This picture of shaking his hand and welcoming him warmly in Jordan - in fact, this picture made a lot of Palestinian people angry, especially after the recent Israeli attacks against Palestinians.

GRADSTEIN: Hamas and Abbas' Fatah have been trying to reach an agreement on a peace proposal that indirectly recognizes Israel and calls for resistance to Israel only in the West Bank in Gaza. Today's events make the future of that dialogue unclear.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Gradstein
Linda Gradstein has been the Israel correspondent for NPR since 1990. She is a member of the team that received the Overseas Press Club award for her coverage of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the team that received Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism for her coverage of the Gulf War. Linda spent 1998-9 as a Knight Journalist Fellow at Stanford University.