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Tensions high as Israel awaits word of kidnapped soldier

Militants abduct corporal during raid on army post


Military Bases

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel has asked its international partners to put pressure on the Palestinian government in an effort to secure the release of an Israeli soldier, abducted Sunday morning after a brazen raid by Palestinian militants who tunneled into Israel.

The militants killed two Israeli soldiers in the attack on an army post near the Gaza-Israel-Egypt border, according to the Israeli army.

A small contingent of Israeli troops remains inside Gaza near the tunnel's opening, and the military plans to destroy the tunnel later in the day, according to Israeli military sources.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Israeli troops were stationed around the Gaza-Israel border on stand-by.

Israel's political-security Cabinet late Sunday authorized the government to "take all necessary actions" to secure the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, according to a statement on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Web site.

The Cabinet also agreed to allow Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz to decide the details of any military action against Palestinian targets.

Israel is holding the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas-led Palestinian government responsible for the attack and the treatment of the kidnapped soldier, according to several government officials and the Cabinet communique.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev called the situation "a crisis" and voiced Israel's demand for Shalit's immediate release.

Palestinian sources said Abbas is involved in talks with militants to gain the soldier's release. The Egyptians are mediating the discussions, the sources said.

Ghazi Hamad, a spokesman for the Palestinian Cabinet, said he has asked Palestinian factions to keep the soldier alive and "deal with him" in a "good way."

Hamad said the Palestinian government is asking Israel not to resort to a "military escalation" and avoid "making the situation more complicated."

On Sunday morning, a group of about seven or eight Palestinian militants emerged from a tunnel underneath the Gaza border near the Sufa Crossing and attacked Israeli soldiers, prompting a gun battle that left three militants dead, according to Palestinian security sources. (Watch explosion at post and Israeli reaction -- 2:21)

Four other soldiers were wounded in the attack, none seriously, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The rest of the militants fled back into Gaza, Israeli security sources said. A short time later, Israeli tanks, bulldozers and helicopters entered Gaza in search of the missing soldier and the militants responsible for digging the tunnel near Rafah, according to the Israeli military.

It was the the Israeli military's first large-scale operation into Gaza since the Jewish state unilaterally withdrew a year ago.

Palestinian security sources said three Palestinian militant groups claimed responsibility for the attack: Izzedine Al Qassam Brigades, which is the military wing of Hamas; the Popular Resistance Committees, an umbrella group that includes militants from Fatah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas; and an unknown group called the Army of Islam.

Responding to an assertion that this militant operation is in response to a recent series of Israeli attacks, Regev said such conclusion is "ridiculous" since the tunnel would have taken weeks to develop.

Regev stressed that after Israel pulled its settlements and military out of Gaza last year, extremists such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are continuing terror strikes across an internationally recognized frontier -- firing rockets every day from Gaza into Israel.

"And of course we have to act to defend our citizens," Regev told CNN.

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