IDF: Kidnapping Foiled in Gaza; No Invasion Planned

Senior IDF officers say the Israel Defense Forces foiled a Hamas attempt to kidnap a soldier on the Gaza border yesterday. Apparently as part of this attempt, dozens of rockets and mortar shells - for which Hamas claimed responsibility - were fired at southern Israel. There were no casualties.

Government and army sources predicted that Israel's response would be localized and not involve a major ground operation in Gaza because no one was hurt and due to pleas for calm by members of the Palestinian government.

The sources said Hamas' claim of responsibility - the first since it formed a unity government with Fatah - should make it clear to all that this is a terrorist government.

Hamas began launching rockets and mortars along the Gaza-Israel border at about 8:00 A.M. The organization said it fired 28 rockets and 61 mortars, but the IDF believes the number was lower because it identified only about 10 landing sites. The launches damaged some agricultural buildings.

Israel will submit a protest to the UN Security Council today.

Hamas had recently resumed attacks from Gaza, though not on this scale. However, its claim of responsibility was unusual: After it agreed to a cease-fire in Gaza last November, it stopped announcing responsibility for rocket launches, even though it was involved in some.

Palestinian security sources affiliated with the rival Fatah party said the attack was meant to score points with the Palestinian public, but they do not believe Hamas plans a large-scale military confrontation with Israel at this stage.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will hold consultations this morning on Israel's response. The main question will be whether Hamas is in fact resuming its war against Israel, which would call for a harsher response, or whether this was a one-time violation of the cease-fire.

However, Olmert did not hold urgent consultations and has not convened the diplomatic-security cabinet, indicating that Israel's response will be moderate.

The IDF's official statement yesterday said only that the army foiled a Hamas attempt "to carry out a large-scale, complex terror attack." But senior army officers said the attack was an attempted kidnapping, apparently via a tunnel into Israel, for which the rocket and mortar fire was meant to provide cover.

Israel had advance intelligence about the attack, supported by Hamas officials' public declarations that the organization was planning additional kidnappings. This helped the army to foil it.

Government and army sources both rejected Palestinian calls to expand the cease-fire to the West Bank, saying Olmert is willing to discuss this only once the cease-fire in Gaza is truly being honored.

Meanwhile, Israel recently approved the transfer of 50 jeeps to security services under Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.