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Hamas Shifts Blame For Missing Israeli Soldier

But Israel and the international community claim the incident took place over an hour after the UN-backed truce took effect.

by Liz Fields
Aug 2 2014, 4:30pm

Image via AP/Hatem Ali

Hamas admitted today its soldiers likely captured an Israeli officer during a deadly ambush, but said the attack was executed an hour before a mutually agreed 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire set in.

Israel and the international community, on the other hand, claim the incident took place over an hour after the UN-backed truce took effect, and blamed Hamas for the collapse of the cease-fire, which was meant to provide humanitarian relief to Gaza's population of 1.8 million.

Soon after the incident, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) resumed shelling of the city of Rafah and other areas of Gaza, killing dozens of Palestinians and further shattering hope of salvaging any remaining hours of the accord.

Palestinians displaced by the fighting in Gaza have nowhere to go. Watch Rockets and Revenge here.

This video is described as showing the arrival to Shifa Hospital of two bodies from the Zaytoun district of southeastern Gaza, where earlier strikes by Israel destroyed the Imam Shafai mosque.

The Qassam Brigades, Hamas' armed division, issued its statement about the ambush on the 26th day of the conflict that has so far killed approximately 1,650 Palestinians — mostly civilians — and has killed 63 Israeli soldiers and three civilians.

The statement claims the ambush occurred in Gaza at 7 AM on Friday, during which time Hamas gunmen supposedly captured IDF Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, in response to advancing Israeli ground forces. Two other Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack.

"We lost contact with the [Hamas] 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 statement read.

Israel claims a suicide bomber was also involved in the attack and that enemy forces maneuvered through underground tunnels before springing out on Israeli troops and later dragging Goldin back into the passages.

Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, told the Associated Press the attack occurred an hour after the cease-fire had started.

At least 35 Palestinians were killed when Israel recouped its shelling of Rafah mid-Friday morning, medics told the Associated Press. In Israel, residents awoke to the sound of wailing sirens, with the military later confirming its Iron Dome missile defense system had intercepted several rockets over Israeli territory overnight.

The destruction wrought on the Imam Shafai mosque in Gaza City.

"It was like an action movie — explosions everywhere, cars flying up in flames, people crushed under houses that were bombed," Rafah resident Bassim Abed told Reuters. "It was a miracle I escaped the area. It's another miracle I didn't die of fear."

Other residents said recorded telephone messages telling them to stay inside warned them of Israel's impending fire. One of the buildings struck by Israeli rockets overnight was located on the Islamic University campus in Gaza City. The IDF said the target was the site of continued weapons development and research by Hamas.

This video, from the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds, shows a strike impacting on the Islamic University.

The Israeli Security Cabinet on Saturday resolved not to resume a truce with Hamas, and confirmed it would not send a delegation to Cairo, where discussions are currently taking place between the members of the international community including the US, Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The United Nations has echoed the sentiments of Washington and Israel in condemning the ambush and return to hostilities, and urging Hamas to free Goldin. Previous soldier abductions in the long history of fighting in the area have drawn heavy responses from Israel, which has historically made great concessions in negotiating for the return of its troops.

In 2011, Israel released over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas five years prior. Israel has also traded Lebanese prisoners for the bodies of two soldiers captured by Hezbollah militants.

The aftermath of strikes in Rafah on August 1.

Neither side knows of the missing soldier's current whereabouts or condition, but the IDF's destruction of Hamas' subterranean tunnel network may be winding down.

"Our understanding is that our objectives, most importantly the destruction of the tunnels, are close to completion," IDF spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Goldin's father, Simha Goldin, told the Associated Press that Israel must "not stop before it turns over every stone in Gaza and returns Hadar home safe and sound."

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields

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