(CNSNews.com) - The U.S.-based American Jewish Committee says after months of rocket fire directed at Israel citizens from Palestinian territory -- and after the deadly attack on an Israeli Army outpost that led to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier -- Israel had no choice but to "act decisively in defense of its citizens."
Predictably, Arab-American and U.S.-based Islamic groups disagree with Israel's military moves, claiming they cross the line of self-defense.
Give us our soldier
American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris said the blame falls on the Palestinian Authority, which has "utterly failed" to impose order on the territories under its control.
"Israel's aims in the current operation are clear: the return of its captured soldier, and an end to the ceaseless attacks emanating from territory under the Palestinians' control," Harris said in a press release.
"No nation could tolerate, without a forceful response, the level of ongoing, deadly provocation that has been directed against Israel in recent months -- provocation all the more intolerable in light of Israel's bold disengagement from Gaza, which brought the territory under full Palestinian control last year."
The AJC is calling on the international community to "stand with Israel as it pursues stability and peace against formidable odds."
Israel has demanded the return of its soldier, 19-year-old Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped in a sneak attack on an Israeli Army outpost near the Gaza-Egyptian border on Sunday. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack. Israel has refused a Palestinian demand to exchange Shalit for Palestinian women and teenagers held in Israeli prisons.
In overnight developments, Israeli troops arrested more than 60 Hamas members across the West Bank, including Hamas cabinet ministers and legislators, for allegedly waging a terror campaign against Israel, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Army radio said the Hamas members surrendered without a fight, and that more arrests are expected in the days ahead.
The Hamas-led Palestinian government blasted Israel for targeting Hamas' political wing -- which insists it was not involved in Shalit's kidnapping.
Although an all-out Israeli invasion has not yet begun, there are signs it will start soon.
Following a night of sonic booms from Israeli war jets -- including a few over the summer home of Syria's president - Israel has dropped leaflets in Palestinian areas, urging civilians to leave while there's still time.
Israel insists it has no territorial designs on Gaza Strip, which it evacuated last summer. It says it wants its kidnapped soldier back, and it wants the rocket fire on southern Israel communities to stop.
"The murderous kidnapping of Gilad Shalit crossed a red line," the Jerusalem Post quoted Defense Minister Amir Peretz as saying. "We are utilizing all the diplomatic tools available, but unfortunately we are encountering a brick wall made up of the Palestinian Authority and that is why we decided to operate inside Gaza."
In a further provocation to Israel, an 18-year-old Israeli kidnapped earlier this week in while hitchhiking in the West Bank has been killed by his Palestinian captors. The Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza City showed a photocopy of his Israeli identity card at a press conference on Wednesday, raising fears that Palestinian terrorists have adopted a new tactic of kidnapping Israelis.
Israeli officials believe the young hitchhiker was murdered shortly after he was kidnapped on Sunday.
In preparation for the full-scale attack that may be coming, Israel on Wednesday blew up three bridges (to prevent the removal of its kidnapped soldier) and a Palestinian power plant, leaving much of the Gaza Strip without electricity and water in the full heat of summer.
A U.S Islamic advocacy group on Wednesday condemned Israel's attack on the Palestinian infrastructure as a "war crime" and urged the Bush administration to condemn it.
"Mild rebukes for the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure in Gaza will not stop Israeli missiles," The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in press release.
"The Bush administration should condemn these war crimes and demand that Israel stop using American taxpayer- funded weapons to carry out attacks that will only serve to intensify the humanitarian crisis in Gaza," CAIR said in a press release.
Likewise, the Arab American Institute (AAI) on Wednesday condemned Israel's ongoing offensive in the Gaza Strip.
AAI President James Zogby called on the Bush administration to demand that Israel halt the systematic destruction of Palestinian infrastructure and allow diplomacy to resolve the issue of the captured Israeli soldier.
"Will Israel never learn?" Zogby asked in a press release. "The use of disproportionate power in acts of collective punishment that display callous disregard for the suffering of hundreds of thousands of innocents will never create peace.
"While the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier remains of deep concern, instead of allowing for Arab interlocutors and the Palestinian presidency to bring about a resolution of this situation, Israel's strike on Gaza's infrastructure has only played into the hands of the extremist group that sought such a response in the first place."
AAI said it is especially outraged at Israel's destruction of the power station, which was built with American partners and is currently underwritten by U.S. guarantees through the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), an independent agency in the executive branch.
"Along with the systematic shutoff of water, the Israeli offensive will only exacerbate the deepening Palestinian humanitarian crisis resulting from the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip that already has caused enormous suffering," AAI said.
"The U.S. cannot stand by while Israel uses U.S. weapons to wreak havoc in Gaza," Zogby said. "Israel's assault is in violation of international and U.S. law, and it should be noted, may cost U.S. taxpayers up to $40 million since the power plant was funded in part with OPIC guarantees."
Israel believes that Damascus-based Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal ordered the attack on the Israeli Army outpost -- and is preventing Shalit's release. Israel has said it is holding the Hamas-led Palestinian government and P.A. Chairman Mahmoud Abbas responsible for the soldier's safety.
See Earlier Stories:
Pressure Play: Israeli Troops, Tanks Enter Gaza Strip (June 28, 2006)
Hamas Facing 'Moment of Truth' (June 28, 2006)
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