GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (June 29) - Israeli forces arrested one-third of the Hamas-led Palestinian Cabinet and 20 lawmakers early Thursday and pressed their incursion into Gaza, responding to the abduction of one of its soldiers.
Israeli warplanes also buzzed the summer home of Syria's president, accused by Israel of harboring the hard-line Hamas leaders it blames for masterminding the kidnapping.
Palestinian witnesses told The Associated Press that Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered northern Gaza before daybreak Thursday, adding a second front to the Israeli action in Gaza that began early Wednesday when thousands of Israeli troops crossed into southern Gaza.
... No deaths or injuries were reported in the Israeli actions. But the warplanes knocked out Gaza's electric power plant, raising the specter of a humanitarian crisis. The Hamas-led government warned of "epidemics and health disasters" because of damaged water pipes to central Gaza and the lack of power to pump water.
... In a clear warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Israeli airplanes flew over his seaside home near the Mediterranean port city of Latakia in northwestern Syria, military officials confirmed, citing the "direct link" between his government and Hamas. Israeli television reports said four planes were involved in the low-altitude flight, and that Assad was there at the time.
... Anxious Palestinians pondered whether the incursion, the first large-scale ground offensive since Israel withdrew from Gaza last year, was essentially a "shock and awe" display designed to intimidate militants, or the prelude to a full-scale invasion.
... "We won't hesitate to carry out extreme action to bring [19-year-old captured Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit] back to his family," [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert declared.
As for Khaled Mashaal [the Hamas leader exiled in Syria], Israeli Justice Minister Haim Ramon said the hard-line Hamas leader, who appears to be increasingly at odds with more moderate Hamas politicians in Gaza, is in Israel's sights for assassination.
"Khaled Mashaal, as someone who is overseeing, actually commanding the terror acts, is definitely a target," Ramon told Army Radio.
Israel tried to kill Mashaal in a botched assassination attempt in Jordan in 1997. Two Mossad agents injected Mashaal with poison, but were caught. As Mashaal lay in a Jordanian hospital, King Hussein of Jordan forced Israel to provide the antidote in return for the release of the Mossad agents.
... Gaza's economy was already in the doldrums before the Israeli assault, a result of five years of Israeli-Palestinian violence and an international aid boycott that followed Hamas' parliamentary election victory in January. The Israeli assault threatened to turn a bad situation into a disaster - underscoring the extent to which hopes have been dashed following the optimism that accompanied Israel's pullout.
Palestinian plans for high-rise apartments, sports complexes and industrial parks in lands evacuated by Israel have given way to despair, with rising poverty, increasingly violent relations with Israel and a looming threat of civil war.
Ed.: Despair, rising poverty, and increasing violence - never a good combination. Could this incursion be the tipping point for an all-in war in the Middle East? Or will tensions simply simmer until the next "event?" Given this President's standing and influence with world leaders - especially in the Middle East, - who will take the lead in negotiating some sort of peaceful de-escalation of tensions in the region? And with our troops stretched to the limit in Iraq and Afghanistan, what role will the world's last remaining "super power/world's cop" play should tensions continue to escalate?