The Hamas Islamist group’s armed wing in the Gaza Strip said on Saturday it had no clear indication on the whereabouts of an Israeli soldier that Israel has accused them of abducting, adding he may have been killed during an ambush.
A statement by the group said it had no contact with militants who were operating in the area in the southern Gaza Strip where Israel said Second-Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23, went missing on Friday, and it feared all had been killed.
“We have lost contact with the group of fighters that took part in the ambush and we believe they were all killed in the (Israeli) bombardment. Assuming that they managed to seize the soldier during combat, we assess that he was also killed in the incident,” the statement said.
CEASEFIRE: CLASH IN TUNNELS LED TO ISRAELI SOLDIER'S ABDUCTION
A Gaza ceasefire crumbled only hours after it began on Friday, as Palestinians were killed by Israeli shelling and Israel's military said a soldier has apparently been captured during clashes in the southern Gaza Strip.
The 72-hour break announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was the most ambitious attempt so far to end more than three weeks of fighting. It was to be followed by Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Cairo on a longer-term solution. A senior Egyptian Foreign Ministry official said the talks would start on Sunday, and that Cairo “expects the two sides to cease fire before the launch of negotiations.”
The Israeli military said Friday that the Gaza ceasefire is now over and military operations were in progress on the ground. Israel accused militants of violating the U.S.- and U.N.-brokered truce by firing rockets and mortars.
Both Kerry and Ban have called on Hamas, which has neither confirmed nor denied it is holding the soldier, to release him immediately and unconditionally.
At a news conference, President Barack Obama also called for the soldier's release, adding that trying to re-institute a ceasefire “is going to be challenging, but we will continue to make those efforts.”
Gaza officials say at least 1,555 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed and 7,000 wounded in the conflict so far. Sixty-three Israeli soldiers have been killed and more than 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian rockets in Israel.
The Israeli military said that 90 minutes into the truce, militants attacked soldiers searching for tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip used to infiltrate fighters into Israel. “Out of a tunnel access point or several, terrorists came out of the ground. At least one was a suicide terrorist who detonated himself. There was an exchange of fire,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman. Two of the soldiers were killed. “The initial indication suggests that a soldier has been abducted by terrorists during the incident,” Lerner said in a conference call with reporters.
The soldier was identified by Israel as Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu, said Hamas was responsible for the attack.
Fearing an escalation of violence in Gaza, Kerry called on Turkey and Qatar on Friday to use their influence to secure the release of the captured soldier.
Some two hours after the truce went into effect, Israeli tanks and artillery opened fire in the southern Rafah area. The Israeli military said the heavy shelling in Rafah was part of operational and intelligence activity designed to locate the captured soldier, The Associated Press reported. The Gaza Health Ministry said more than 70 people were killed and 220 wounded by Israeli shelling, Reuters reported.
Eight rockets and mortar bombs were fired from Gaza at Israel, the military said, adding that one was intercepted by the Iron Dome system and seven hit open areas.
GLOBAL REACTION: OBAMA CALLS FOR SOLDIER'S RELEASE
- United States: “If they are serious about trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible,” President Obama said at a news conference.
- United Nations: UN special co-ordinator Robert Serry urged Palestinian parties to "urgently reaffirm their commitment to the humanitarian ceasefire."
- Saudi Arabia: King Abdullah criticized international inaction on Friday over Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which he described as involving mass slaughter and “war crimes against humanity”, in a speech read out on his behalf on state television. “This [international] community which has observed silently what is happening in the whole region, was indifferent to what is happening, as if what is happening is not its concern. Silence that has no justification,” he said in his speech.
GAZA: PALESTINIANS RETURN TO SHELTERS
As the ceasefire began, people filled the streets of the narrow coastal territory, many walking back to their homes, while others used donkey carts or hitched rides on trucks.
Some had hurriedly managed to retrieve clothes and blankets from their homes, and many bought food and water to take back to the shelters after the truce collapsed.
In Gaza City, streets that had filled soon after the truce came into force were empty again a few hours later.
CAIRO: ISRAELIS, PALESTINIANS AND U.S. HEAD TO PEACE TALKS
A senior State Department official travelling with Kerry in India said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns would arrive in Cairo on Saturday and that Frank Lowenstein, the acting U.S envoy for Middle East peace, and another U.S. official, Jonathan Schwartz, would be there on Friday.
The Palestinian delegation will be comprised of Hamas, Western-backed Fatah, the Islamic Jihad militant group and a number of smaller factions, Palestinian officials said. But U.S. officials said Israel and the United States would not sit across the table from Hamas, which the two countries, along with the European Union, consider a terrorist group.
Hamas, isolated in an Arab world concerned about the rise Islamist militancy, is seeking an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. It also wants a hostile Egypt to ease restrictions at its Rafah crossing with the territory imposed after the military toppled Islamist president Mohammed Morsi last July.
Israel has balked at freeing up Gaza’s borders under any de-escalation deal unless Hamas’s disarmament is also guaranteed.
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