REINEKE FORD   ||   NEWS UPDATES

Israel bombards Gaza as it searches for soldier

Comment: Off

This undated photo shows Israeli Army 2nd. Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23 from Kfar Saba, central Israel. Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 that Goldin was apparently captured by Hamas militants who came through a tunnel from the Gaza Strip and another two soldiers were killed. An hour after Friday’s cease-fire started, gunmen emerged from one or more Gaza tunnels and opened fire at Israeli soldiers, with at least one of the militants detonating an explosives vest, said Lerner. Goldin was apparently captured during the ensuing mayhem and taken back into Gaza through a tunnel. (AP Photo/YNet News)

This undated photo shows Israeli Army 2nd. Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23 from Kfar Saba, central Israel. Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Friday, Aug. 1, 2014 that Goldin was apparently captured by Hamas militants who came through a tunnel from the Gaza Strip and another two soldiers were killed. An hour after Friday’s cease-fire started, gunmen emerged from one or more Gaza tunnels and opened fire at Israeli soldiers, with at least one of the militants detonating an explosives vest, said Lerner. Goldin was apparently captured during the ensuing mayhem and taken back into Gaza through a tunnel. (AP Photo/YNet News)

A Palestinian supporter of Hamas holds the Quran as others shout slogans against the Israeli military action in Gaza, during a demonstration in the West Bank town of Tulkarem town on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. A Palestinian man was shot and killed during clashes with Israeli troops, following the demonstration in Tulkarem, Palestinian security sources said. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)

Hamas supporters shout slogans against the Israeli military action in Gaza, during a demonstration in the West Bank town of Tulkarem town on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. A Palestinian man was shot and killed during clashes with Israeli troops, following the demonstration in Tulkarem, Palestinian security sources said. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)

A supporter of Hamas holds a representation of a rocket as others shout slogans against the Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, during a protest in the West Bank town of Tulkarem town on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. A Palestinian man was shot and killed during clashes with Israeli troops near Tulkarem, Palestinian security sources said. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)

Palestinians run for cover from Israeli soldiers, following a protest against the war in the Gaza Strip, during clashes near the West Bank town of Tulkarem on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. A Palestinian man was shot and later died during clashes with Israeli troops near Tulkarem, Palestinian security sources said. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)

Buy AP Photo Reprints

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel bombarded the southern Gaza town of Rafah on Saturday as troops searched for an officer they believe was captured by Hamas in an ambush that shattered a humanitarian cease-fire and set the stage for a major escalation of the 26-day-old war.

The Israeli military has said it believes the soldier was grabbed in a Hamas ambush about an hour after an internationally brokered cease-fire took effect Friday morning. The Hamas military wing on Saturday distanced itself from the soldier’s alleged capture, which has prompted widespread international condemnation. President Barack Obama, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and others have called for his immediate and unconditional release.

At least 35 Palestinians were killed in the bombardment and shelling in and around the city of Rafah early Saturday, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra, adding that the area’s main hospital was evacuated because of the strikes.

Elsewhere in Gaza, Palestinian officials reported more than 150 airstrikes including one against the Islamic University in Gaza City. Heavy shelling continued along the border areas. The fiercest battles took place near the site of Friday’s attack and purported abduction, near Rafah, about 3 kilometers inside the strip and close to the borders with Israel and Egypt.

The Hamas military wing said in a statement on its website that it is “not aware until this moment of a missing soldier or his whereabouts or the circumstances of his disappearance.”

The group said it believes the soldier might have been killed in a clash with Hamas fighters about an hour before the start of the 8:00 a.m. (0500 GMT) cease-fire.

Hamas said it has lost contact with those fighters. “We believe all members of this group have died in an (Israeli) strike, including the Zionist soldier the enemy says disappeared,” it said.

The Israeli military declined comment on the statement.

The disappearance of the soldier, 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, and the heavy clashes that followed it shattered an internationally brokered cease-fire that was to have been in place for three days and open the way for talks in Cairo on a more sustainable truce.

Israel and Hamas have accused each other of violating the humanitarian pause.

Israel launched its aerial offensive on July 8 to stop unrelenting Gaza rocket fire toward its cities and communities and later expanded it to a ground offensive mostly aimed at destroying an elaborate Hamas cross-border tunnel network used for attacks inside Israel.

Since fighting began, Gaza militants have fired more than 3,000 rockets into Israel, reaching most major cities and forcing millions to seek cover. Hamas has also infiltrated Israel several times and killed Israeli soldiers. Israeli communities along the border have mostly emptied for fear of the repeated rocket fire and infiltrations.

Sirens wailed across central Israel once again Saturday morning warning of incoming rockets.

Since fighting began on July 8, more than 1,650 Palestinians — mostly civilians — have been killed and more than 8,000 wounded, according al-Kidra. Israel has lost 63 soldiers and three civilians.

The prospect of an abducted soldier, however, looked to further escalate the fighting.

Israel has gone to great lengths in the past to get back its captured soldiers. In 2011, it traded hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier who had been captured by Hamas and other militants five years earlier. The capture of two soldiers in a

Comments

comments

About the Author