GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – The spokesman for one of the Hamas-linked groups holding an Israeli soldier captive said today that because Israel ignored a deadline to release Palestinian prisoners, the militants won’t release any information about the soldier.
The spokesman, Abu Muthana, would not say whether Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, is dead or alive.
“We will not give any information that will give the occupation good news or reassurance,” he said.
The militants had set a 6 a.m. deadline for Israel to begin freeing prisoners, implying they would kill the soldier if their demands were not met. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected any negotiations with the militants, and the army pressed ahead with its Gaza offensive. Privately, though, some officials said the government had not ruled out any options to win Shalit’s freedom.
Israel has pounded Gaza with airstrikes and artillery shells for nearly a week in an unsuccessful effort to force the Hamas-linked militants to release Shalit. It has been building up troops across from northern Gaza, preparing for an invasion. Tanks and troops moved in and out throughout the day and the military said it was carrying out “limited” operations to uncover explosives and tunnels.
A Hamas militant was killed and four were wounded in an Israeli airstrike in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza just after midnight, Palestinians said. Israel said its air force targeted Palestinians planting a bomb near soldiers.
After Shalit was seized in a June 25 raid on an army post that left two comrades dead, his captors demanded Israel free all imprisoned Palestinian women and minors in exchange for information about him. They later increased their demand to include the release of 1,000 more prisoners.
Early Monday, Hamas’ military wing – one of the three groups holding Shalit – issued a statement giving Israel until 6 a.m. Tuesday (8 p.m. PDT Monday) to start freeing the prisoners.
If Israel does not comply, “we will consider the soldier’s case to be closed,” the statement said, “and then the enemy must bear all the consequences of the future results.”
Abu Obeida refused to specify what the militants would do if their ultimatum was ignored.
Olmert said the government would not cave in to extortion.
“There will be no negotiations to release prisoners,” his office said.