Militants refuse to give information on Israeli hostage

Militants holding an Israeli soldier today said they would give no further information about him because Israel ignored a deadline to release Palestinian prisoners.

Militants holding an Israeli soldier today said they would give no further information about him because Israel ignored a deadline to release Palestinian prisoners.

Israel insisted it would not negotiate with the militants.

Abu Muthana, spokesman for the Army of Islam, would not say whether the soldier was dead or alive.

“We will not give any information that will give the occupation good news or reassurance,” he said.

The Army of Islam was unheard of before the soldier was captured on June 25. Two other groups – the Hamas military wing and the Popular Resistance Committees - have taken responsibility for the abduction.

Yesterday, the militants indicated they might kill the captured soldier, Cpl Gilad Shalit (aged 19) 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.

Interviewed on Israel Radio after the deadline expired, Cabinet minister Roni Bar-On, who is close to Olmert, said: “Israel will not give in to terrorists and will not give in to extortion.”

Hamas sent out mixed messages late yesterday. In Gaza, government spokesman Ghazi Hamad expressed hope for a diplomatic solution.

But Osama Hamdan, one of the most senior members of the exiled Hamas leadership, ruled out a compromise and even threatened to abduct more Israelis.

“If this operation does not lead to the release of prisoners now, let’s postpone talk … and we will continue resistance. Other (Israelis) might be taken prisoner,” Hamdan, Hamas’ representative in Lebanon, told Al Manar television.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah early today, after surrounding a Palestinian police building, Israeli forces arrested three militants said to be involved in the abduction and killing of an 18-year-old Israeli settler last week. The military said a fourth was arrested earlier.

The kidnapping of the teenager, Eliahu Asheri, added tension to the situation surrounding the capture of the soldier. Asheri’s body was found last Thursday near Ramallah.

The soldier was taken during a Hamas-directed cross-border raid on June 25 on an Israeli army post at a Gaza crossing point. Two other soldiers were killed in the attack.

In the hours before the deadline expired, Israel kept up its pressure on Hamas with airstrikes.

Early today, Israeli aircraft hit the student council building at the Islamic University in Gaza City, witnesses said, badly damaging it. No one was hurt.

The university is a Hamas stronghold. The military said it hit a “compound used by terror groups for instructing and directing terrorists”.

The military said it also hit another Hamas facility in northern Gaza.

Also, Palestinian residents said several Israeli tanks and a bulldozer entered the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun after midnight. The military said they were still outside. Israel has been building up troops across from northern Gaza, preparing for an invasion.

A Hamas militant was killed and four 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’ positions.

Reacting to the Tuesday morning deadline, Olmert, who has repeatedly ruled out talks with the militants, said the government would not cave in to extortion.

“There will be no negotiations to release prisoners,” his office said in a statement, adding that he holds the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority responsible for Shalit’s safety.

But government and military officials said privately that Israel would pursue all options to get Shalit back. Israel has released prisoners before in lopsided exchanges for captured citizens or the dead bodies of soldiers killed in battle.

Mohammed Dahlan, a Palestinian legislator and close ally to moderate President Mahmoud Abbas, said the ultimatum was a negotiating tactic and that efforts to broker a compromise were continuing.

“What we care about now in the Gaza Strip is not to reach a point of no return,” he said. “Everyone has an interest in getting out of this crisis.”

The White House urged the militants to release Shalit.

“It is the responsibility of Hamas to return the Israeli soldier. That’s how all this got started. We have also been encouraging Israel from the very beginning to practice restraint and continue to do so,” White House press secretary Tony Snow said.

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