Hamas denies breaking cease-fire
The fate of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, the Israeli soldier feared kidnapped by Hamas, is unknown at this hour as conflicting reports about his health and possible whereabouts continue.
Goldin was attached to a unit that was readying a Hamas tunnel for destructioin during the cease fire when a group of terrorists - including a suicide bomber - emerged from the opening and attacked. At least two Israeli soldiers were killed by the bomber, including perhaps Goldin. The attack occurred at 9;30 AM local time - 1 1/2 hours after the cease fire went into effect.
But Hamas is telling a different strory:
Hamas acknowledged responsibility on Saturday for a deadly Gaza Strip ambush in which an Israeli army officer may have been captured, but said the incident likely preceded and therefore had not violated a U.S.- and U.N.-sponsored truce.
The statement by Hamas's armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, appeared aimed at preempting any intensification of Israel's 25-day-old offensive in the Palestinian enclave and deflecting international blame for the collapse of Friday's ceasefire.
But in a signal the war could wind down, Israel's military said its objectives, chiefly the destruction of tunnels dug by Hamas for cross-border attacks, were close to being achieved.
Israel says Hamas gunmen and a suicide bomber stormed out of a tunnel to ambush its infantrymen in southern Rafah a 9.30 a.m. on Friday, one and a half hours after the halt to hostilities came into effect, killing two troops and hauling another, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, away through the underground passage.
The incident triggered Israeli shelling of Rafah from the mid-morning that killed 150 Palestinians. By early afternoon, Israel declared an end to the truce - which was meant to have lasted 72 hours, allowing humanitarian relief to reach Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians and for further de-escalation talks.
Washington accused Hamas of a "barbaric" breach of the deal mediated by Egypt with the involvement of Turkey, Qatar and U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The United Nations said it had not verified the flare-up's causes, but questioned Hamas's truce commitment and urged Goldin be freed.
Hamas said it did not know what had happened to the soldier but if he was captured, he probably died in Israeli hostilities that followed the ambush.
Citing an internal investigation complicated by inability to communicate with its gunmen in the Rafah area, Hamas's Qassam Brigades said on Saturday it believed that the ambush took place at 7 a.m. in response to advances by Israeli ground forces.
"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 Brigades said in a statement.
The Egyptian cease fire plan called for a 72 humanitarian truce. The plan promoted by US Secretary of State John Kerry - endorsed by Hamas but no one else - was jettisoned.
It appears that Israel may be winding down its ground campaign, with the IDF saying the effort to eradicate Hamas tunnels nears an end:
Israel, with U.S. backing, had said that during any truce its ground forces would continue hunting cross-border tunnels. More than 30 of these, and dozens of access shafts, have already been located and were being blown up, the Israeli military says.
"Our understanding is that our objectives, most importantly the destruction of the tunnels, are close to completion," a military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, said.
Even if Lt. Goldin is dead, Hamas will use his body as a bargaining chip. And Israel is likely to do a deal if that's the case. In the IDF's battle against terrorists, no Israeli soldier is left behind.