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Israel Rejects Militant Ultimatum on Soldier


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has rejected a demand by Palestinian militants holding an Israeli soldier to release Palestinian prisoners by early Tuesday.

Mr. Olmert says his government will not conduct any negotiations to win the release of the 19-year old corporal, who was abducted on June 25th.

Mr. Olmert added that the Palestinian government is responsible for ensuring the soldier's safety and return.

He issued the statement after three Palestinian militant groups - the Popular Resistance Committees, the armed wing of the governing Hamas movement and the Army of Islam in Gaza - threatened unspecified consequences unless Israel releases hundreds of prisoners.

Earlier Monday, Israeli forces entered Gaza to search for explosive devices and tunnels dug to Israel by militants.

But military officials say the operation was not the start of a threatened large-scale incursion against Palestinian militants. Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad says the kidnappers' demands are in response to Israeli airstrikes on Gaza over the past week.

Prime Minister Olmert had ordered the army to intensify operations to secure the release of the soldier.

Also Monday, Israeli warplanes also attacked a building used by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Movement.

Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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