Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, authorised the raid on a house just north of Jerusalem less than nine hours after he was jointly awarded the peace prize with Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, and the Palestine Liberation Organisation leader, Yasser Arafat.
But a sombre Mr Rabin had to appear on live television late on the evening of the Jewish Sabbath to tell Israelis that the attempt to save 19- year-old Corporal Nachshon Waxman had failed. 'I wish I could give up the Nobel prize to get the two soldiers back,' he said.
Corporal Waxman, he said, was 'killed in cold blood by the Hamas murderers'. Hamas, a radical group opposed to the peace process that won Mr Rabin the Nobel prize, kidnapped the corporal as part of its violent campaign of disruption. 'It is an obligation not to surrender to the dictates of terror but to fight it,' said Mr Rabin. He took political responsibility for the raid, and there is little doubt most Israelis will back him.
The commandos went in just ahead of a deadline of 1900 GMT set by the armed wing of Hamas. The group said it would kill the kidnapped soldier unless two militant clerics and up to 200 other activists were freed from Israeli jails.
Shortly before the raid, Cpl Waxman's mother had sent a television message to her son, telling that him she would be lighting Sabbath candles, traditional on Friday evening, as a sign of hope. 'The Sabbath is a day of serenity, peace and joy,' she said with great composure. 'We will say our Sabbath prayers with extra devotion. You are in our heart every minute.' Senior army officers were comforting her last night.
Witnesses said the raid went horribly wrong when a booby-trapped front door blew up in the face of an officer, killing him and wounding up to nine of his men.
Soldiers at the scene said Cpl Waxman was found dead inside the house. He had been shot dead with his hands tied behind his back. They said three Hamas gunmen had been killed and a fourth captured. Local residents told how the elite unit surrounded the hideout and fired rockets and automatic weapons before charging the building.
Mr Rabin had earlier said he believed the hostage was in the PLO-run Gaza strip. Mr Arafat sent out hundreds of his security men on a frantic search that won respect from Israeli ministers. But it has turned out the kidnappers were in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
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