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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Olmert veut-il vraiment sauver le soldat Shilat ?

by Pierre Barbancey

Is Olmert Really Intent on Saving Corporal Shilat?

Translated Saturday 1 July 2006, by Carol Gullidge

Gaza. Following the abduction of nineteen-year-old Corporal Shilat during a cross-border raid on June 25, which saw the deaths of two other soldiers, Israel’s Prime Minister has declared an all-out offensive to secure his release. Likely to set the region ablaze, this assault has met with a deafening silence from the international community.


Israel has launched a broad sweeping offensive in the Gaza Strip at the risk escalating the crisis in the area. Overnight on Tuesday, the army surrounded the territory and the air force carried out raids destroying at least two bridges and the main power station in the Nousseirat refugee camp, setting it on fire. According to Mahmoud Al Cherif, director of the power station, an Israeli artillery unit fired six missiles, wiping out all the generators. He added that most of the Gaza Strip was now without electricity, and that it would take at least six months to re-establish it. Yesterday morning, the Israeli army entered the Palestinian territory’s only airport at Rafah, where the runways had been destroyed in a similar operation in 2001.

Troops still massed.

The army is preventing anyone from going within a kilometre of the airport, patrolled overhead by Apache helicopters. To the North, troops were still massing and awaiting the order to go into Palestinian territory. The offensive seemed to be marking time towards midday yesterday, but the Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, was still openly determined to use “extreme measures” in order to find the abducted soldier.
“The objective of our Israeli offensive in Gaza is to bring Gilad Shilat home. We have no intention of reoccupying the Gaza Strip, nor of causing any suffering to the Palestinian population”, explained the Minister of National Infrastructure, Binyamin Ben Eliezer. A declaration much more for the benefit of the United States and the European Union than a reality on the ground.

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, has condemned the military offensive and considers that “this assault against civilian targets and infrastructure is a collective punishment against the Palestinian people.” For the Hamas-led government, “carrying out such large-scale military lunacy will have significant consequences. So far, Israel has not managed to achieve her objectives, and will gain nothing from this operation.” He was referring to the soldier kidnapped on Sunday. Meanwhile an armed Palestinian group also threatens to kill an Israeli settler supposedly abducted in the West Bank. “There will be crimes and victims, especially amongst civilians, the entire responsibility for which lies with Israel”, he added.

The international community is yet again shilly-shallying, dismissing both parties without pronouncing in favour of either. France feels particularly concerned, given the Israeli-French dual nationality of the abducted soldier. Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs has therefore called for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to enter into dialogue again “as soon as possible”, adding: “We condemn any violence from either side”. He pointed out that France was in contact with “President Abbas on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs”, Tzipi Livni. Although the Islamic movement Hamas, which heads the Palestinian government, has taken a major step towards the implicit recognition of Israel by signing a document of national intent with the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation), the EU, not satisfied with this, is still demanding more.

Not a word on the kidnappings

So, instead of preparing to lift economic and financial sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU Commissioner for External Relations, evoking the inter-Palestinian agreement, does not reckon this to be “an end in itself”. She does, however, consider that it “should be the beginning of a process whereby different factions enter into a commitment on principles of non-violence, the recognition of Israel and the acceptance of previous agreements and obligations”.
Not a word, meanwhile, on the kidnappings carried out by the Israeli army (more than 8,000 prisoners, including members of parliament), Israel’s obligations, the end of the occupation, and putting a stop to the construction of the Annexation Wall. Unfortunately, Douste-Blazy’s position is hardly far-removed from this one, with his explanation that “The question for us is whether or not it is still possible to save the negotiations between the two sides.”

Pierre Barbancey

This article first appeared in l’Humanité on 29 June 2006
URL: http://www.humanite.fr/journal/2006-06-29/2006-06-29-832580

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