The Israeli political-security cabinet approved a plan that authorizes the army to start preparing for a “fierce” military operation in the Gaza Strip in order to secure the release of an Israeli soldier who went missing after an early Sunday pre-dawn operation.
Two Israeli soldiers and three Palestinian fighters  were killed when fighters attacked an Israeli military post near the Gaza border. The fighters came through a secretly built tunnel and opened fire at an Israel tank at the post.

Israel says that the fighters abducted one soldier while the factions that carried the attack deny any abduction.

The Israeli cabinet ministers authorized Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Defense Minister Amir Peretz to decide the timing of the operation.

The Israeli cabinet also agreed to continue employing diplomatic efforts and will seek international pressure “to convince the Palestinian fighters to release the soldier”.

The missing soldier was identified as 19-year-old Gilad Shalit from Mitzpe Hila, near Carmiel.

During the meeting, Olmert said that the time of restraint is over and that Israel will “respond forcefully” and carry out an long term operations.

Olmert added that Israel will not do any prisoner swap to secure the release of the missing soldier.

According to Israeli online daily newspaper Haaretz, Arab diplomatic sources involved in efforts to release the soldier reported that Shalit is in good health. That information also goes along with an earlier radio broadcast from Gaza supposedly made by a Popular Resistance Committees spokesman that said they are holding a soldier.

But the three groups that carried out the attack, the Al-Qassm brigades, the armed wing of the ruling Hamas movement, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) and a formerly unknown group called the Islamic Army said in a press release Sunday that their fighters did not abduct any Israeli soldier.