JERUSALEM, Israel - Following an urgent travel advisory issued late Tuesday by the National Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Bureau, hundreds of vacationing Israelis have returned home from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.
The advisory, which was reissued on Wednesday morning, came after concrete Intelligence warnings of a terror cell plotting to kidnap Israelis and transport them to the Gaza Strip.
"We call on all Israelis in Sinai to return to Israel immediately. Families of Israelis [vacationing] in Sinai are requested to contact them and inform them of this travel warning," the Counter-Terrorism Bureau's harsher-than-normal statement read.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Defense Ministry's Diplomatic Security Bureau, spoke to Army Radio about the advisory.
"It's not a general warning, but concrete information that points to the possibility of kidnapping an Israeli, with the possibility of his murder and [or] transfer to the Gaza Strip," Gilad said.
"It's a justifiable concern for the welfare of Israelis and therefore, the advisory was of a concrete nature. There's no need to invent anything in this place. The danger is severe," Gilad said.
Despite travel advisories issued before Passover, an estimated 5,000 Israelis spent the holiday in the popular Red Sea resort.
Hamas, the Palestinian faction controlling the Gaza Strip, and the Lebanese-based Hezbollah terror group are both funded, trained and armed by Iran.
Hamas is looking for more bargaining chips - like IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldier Gilad Shalit - to swap for Palestinian prisoners serving time for terror acts.
Shalit has been held captive since June 2006, when Palestinians tunneled under the border to attack an army outpost near the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza. The attackers killed two soldiers, wounded three and kidnapped Shalit.
Despite intensive negotiations for Shalit's release - mediated by Egypt and then Germany - no agreement has been reached.
Hamas has demanded up to 1,000 prisoners in exchange for Shalit, including Palestinians convicted of terror attacks that killed scores of Israelis. In the nearly four years since his abduction, no family members, government officials or International Red Cross staff have been permitted to visit him.
Hezbollah is interested in avenging the death of senior operative Imad Mugniyeh, who was killed by a car bomb in February 2008 in Damascus. Hezbollah blamed Israel, though Mugniyeh's widow said Syria was behind her husband's assassination.
Meanwhile, police hope the estimated 550 Israelis still in the Sinai will heed the warning and return home without further delay.