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Israel steps up preparations for Gaza incursion

Israel steps up preparations for Gaza incursion
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The clock is ticking and the military build-up continues. Israel has deployed more infantry and tanks along its border with Gaza as time runs out for the Palestinians to find a soldier who is thought to have been abducted. Israeli officials have been talking tough, ruling out a possible release of Palestinian prisoners in return for information about the missing corporal, and threatening Hamas leaders with assassination.

The family of 19-year-old conscript Gilad Shalit has appealed to his captors to treat him well and to provide him with medical care. It is thought he may have been injured in the militant attack on Sunday which left two of his fellow soldiers dead. A Palestinian rocket strike on the town of Sderot has added pressure on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to act forcefully.

Gunmen in northern Gaza have begun to block off roads in anticipation of the Israeli assault. Militants from various factions, including the armed wing of the ruling Hamas party, have declared they are ready for the offensive and warned of consequences for Israel if it launches an incursion into Gaza.

Sderot – dubbed “a town under siege” because of frequent attacks from nearby Gaza – was plunged into darkness when the rocket hit an electricity plant. One person was reportedly injured.