Israel Searches Gaza For Soldier Hamas Says May Be DeadSaud Abu Ramadan and Jonathan Ferziger
Israel spent a second day searching the Gaza Strip for a missing soldier it says may have been taken captive. The territory’s Hamas rulers raised the possibility he was seized and then killed in an Israeli bombardment.
The soldier, identified as Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23, disappeared yesterday as his unit was preparing to destroy a tunnel near Rafah, in southern Gaza, militants built to infiltrate Israel. Two other soldiers were killed in an ambush that took place the day a short-lived truce took effect.
“We lost contact with the troops deployed in the ambush and assess that these troops were probably killed by enemy bombardment, including the soldier said to be missing, presuming that our troops took him prisoner during the clash,” the military wing of Hamas said on its website today, without presenting any evidence to back up that speculation. The army said it’s continuing to search for Goldin and declined to comment on the Hamas statement that he may be dead.
Israel and Hamas accused each other of shattering the humanitarian cease-fire brokered by the U.S. and United Nations, which was supposed to enter force early yesterday and last for three days. President Barack Obama and UN chief Ban Ki-moon demanded the soldier’s release and blamed Hamas for the resumption of violence.
The truce was the latest effort to halt fighting that entered a 26th day today and initiate talks on a more lasting settlement.
The Palestinian death toll in Israeli air, ground and naval bombardments has topped 1,650, according to Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra. Israel has lost at least 63 soldiers and three civilians while battling militants who have barraged it with rockets and raided it through tunnels.
Commenting on Goldin’s suspected capture yesterday, Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said it “looks like” a soldier was taken back through the tunnel. Hamas said yesterday it didn’t know “anything about a missing Israeli soldier, or where he is or what the circumstances of his disappearance are.” No group has claimed to have captured Goldin.
The last time a soldier was seized, Israel traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners it held to free him in 2011 after five years in captivity. Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, consider Hamas a terrorist organization and say the Islamist group uses civilians as human shileds.
In Cairo today, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi said his country’s July 14 truce initiative, which Israel accepted and Hamas rejected, is still on the table. “There’s no other alternative,” he said at a news conference.
While representatives of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said they would attend new Cairo talks, Israel will stay away because it doesn’t believe Hamas can be trusted to abide by the terms of a truce, Israel’s deputy defense minister, Tzahi Hanegbi, said in an interview with Channel 2 television. He said the renewed shelling of targets in Gaza will insure that Hamas “won’t dare fire on us for years.”
Israeli special forces and the army engineering corps used explosives and earth-moving equipment in southern Gaza today to take apart more of the tunnels that have allowed Palestinian militants to move swiftly underground and breach the Israeli border. In parallel, the army told Palestinians in northern Gaza, where some of the most aggressive bombing has taken place, that they could return to the Beit Lehiya area.
“The residents are advised to beware of explosive devices,” the Israeli army said in a text message, blaming Hamas for booby-trapping many of the houses. Palestinian aid workers warned of unexploded Israeli ordnance as well.
The Israeli military said it hit about 200 targets since the cease-fire broke down, bringing to more than 4,500 the number of strikes carried out since the fighting began July 8. Targets struck overnight include a Hamas weapons development facility at the Islamic University in Gaza City and arms caches concealed in mosques, it said.
Israel says Hamas should be disarmed under any agreement, while Hamas demands the lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian embargo on the territory.
Hamas spurned the plan, saying it didn’t guarantee lifting the blockade Israel imposed on Gaza in 2006. Egypt, which banned Hamas activities earlier this year, has also closed its border crossing with the territory. Since El-Sisi led the ouster of his predecessor, Islamist President Mohamed Mursi last year, Egypt has destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels straddling the frontier with Gaza that Palestinians built to skirt the restrictions.