Hamas yesterday claimed responsibility 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 US and UN-sponsored truce.
The statement by Hamas’ armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, appeared aimed at pre-empting any intensification of Israel’s 25-day-old Gaza offensive, as well as at deflecting international blame for the collapse of Friday’s ceasefire.
Israel says Palestinian gunmen stormed out of a tunnel to ambush its infantrymen in southern Rafah at 9:30am, one-and-a-half hours after the halt to hostilities came into effect, killing two and hauling away Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Lieutenant Hadar Goldin.
Hamas said that if Goldin had been captured, he may have been killed in Israeli hostilities.
The incident triggered mid-morning Israeli shelling of Rafah that killed 150 Palestinians. By early afternoon, Israel declared an end to the truce — which was meant to have lasted 72 hours, allowing for humanitarian relief to reach Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians and for further talks.
Washington accused Hamas of a “barbaric” violation of the agreement framed by Egypt that also involved Turkey, Qatar and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Citing an investigation complicated by an inability to contact its people in the area of the ambush in eastern Rafah, Hamas’ Qassam Brigades said yesterday that it believed that the ambush took place at 7am, in response to Israeli advances.
“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 Qassam Brigades has no information as of this time about the missing soldier, his whereabouts, or the circumstances of his disappearance,” the statement said.
US President Barack Obama called for Goldin’s release.
“I think it’s going to be very hard to put a ceasefire back together again if Israelis and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a ceasefire commitment,” he said on Friday.
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