2 Aug 2014

Gaza: violence amid Israeli hunt for soldier

Israel launches strikes on Gaza and militants fire rockets at Israel after the collapse of a ceasefire. The whereabouts of a missing Israeli soldier, which Israel says Hamas abducted, remain unclear.

Hamas said it had no clear information on the whereabouts of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, an Israeli soldier who went missing after clashes on Friday.

A statement by its armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, said it had lost contact with the troops deployed in the ambush and believed they had probably been killed by “enemy bombardment” – suggesting that Goldin could also have been killed in the attack alongside its troops, if he had been taken prisoner by them. Two other IDF soldiers were killed in the ambush in southern Rafah.

The statement issued on Saturday morning added: “The Qassam Brigades has no information as of this time about the missing soldier, his whereabouts, or the circumstances of his disappearance.”

Israel and Hamas dispute whether the ambush took place before or after the beginning of a US and UN brokered ceasefire on Friday, thus over who is to blame for the failure of the latest truce.

Washington accused Hamas of a “barbaric” violation of the agreement, and the UN, although it said it had not verified the circumstances surrounding the incident, questioned Hamas’s commitment to the truce and called for Goldin’s release.

Either way, a ceasefire that was supposed to last 72 hours – giving the citizens of Gaza time to stock up on food and care for their dead and injured, as well as giving both sides in the conflict space for longer-lasting peace talks – lasted barely 72 minutes, and since then, violence has escalated again. Israel has also said it will no longer send envoys to peace talks in Egypt this weekend.

Palestinian officials said 55 people had died in Israeli strikes on Saturday, mostly in Rafah, where Goldin disappeared. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) later messaged Palestinians in an area of northern Gaza, telling them they could return home.

Militants also fired rockets into Israel on Saturday morning, many of which were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system.

If it turns out that Goldin has been captured alive, Israel fears the story will echo that of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas who was then held for five years and eventually released in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

The latest flare-up of violence was initially sparked by the deaths of three Israeli teenagers, whose bodies were found in Hebron, in the West Bank. A Palestinian teen was then found dead in Jerusalem. Israel launched an air and naval offensive on Gaza on 8 July amid rocket salvoes by Hamas and other groups.

Palestinian officials say 1,650 Gazans, most of them civilians, have been killed in the weeks of violence, including a muezzin who died in an Israeli strike on a northern mosque on Saturday.

Sixty-three Israeli soldiers have been killed, and Hamas rockets have killed three civilians in Israel.