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Israel identifies ‘missing’ soldier in Gaza

Israeli soldiers secure an area near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 21, 2014, after militants from Gaza infiltrated southern Israel through two tunnels. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ

The Israeli army on Tuesday confirmed that a soldier who Hamas militants claimed they had kidnapped is dead and his body remains unaccounted for.


The army named the soldier, whose body is still missing, as 21-year-old Oron Shaul. The identification came two days after the armed wing of Hamas, the al Qassam Bridages, said they had captured an Israeli soldier, but incorrectly named him Aron Shaul.

Reporting from Gaza earlier this week, FRANCE 24’s Gallagher Fenwick said the announcement Sunday evening “generated huge scenes of joy in Gaza, people shooting [celebratory rounds] in the air, shouts of joy also coming from loudspeakers on mosques all over the Palestinian enclave,” he explained.

US carriers Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said Tuesday they were suspending service between the US and Israel indefinitely. US Airways scrapped its Tel Aviv service Tuesday and said it is monitoring the situation in regards to future flights. The announcements came after a Delta flight from New York headed for Tel Aviv was diverted to Paris following reports of a rocket attack near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.

Air France, Dutch airline KLM, and Lufthansa also announced Tuesday that they have suspended flights to Tel Aviv.

But hours later, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prossor denied reports that Hamas had kidnapped an Israeli soldier during heavy fighting in Gaza City’s Shejaia neighbourhood.

On Tuesday, an Israeli army spokeswoman said pathologists had identified 12 out of the 13 soldiers killed in Gaza over the weekend but that 21-year-old Shaul's body was still unaccounted for.

Shaul part of elite unit

The publication of the deceased’s name suggested Hamas was likely to be holding the soldier's remains, although it was not clear if the entire body or only part of it was missing.

Israeli dog-tags carry a soldier's name and his army number, and are designed to be broken in two, with half worn around the neck and the other half inserted into his boot to allow for identification in the event of death.

Shaul was part of a group of seven troops from the elite Golani unit who died in an attack on an armoured vehicle in Gaza.

For Israelis, a captured soldier would be a nightmare scenario. In the past, Israel has paid a heavy price to retrieve its soldiers – dead or alive – captured by its enemies.

Hamas militants have long sought to abduct soldiers to use as bargaining chips to obtain the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

In 2006, it captured conscript Gilad Shalit and held him for five years before freeing him in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel pounds targets in Gaza

News of the missing Israeli soldier came as Israel continued its offensive on Gaza. Overnight, Israel bombed five mosques, a sports complex and the home of the late Hamas military chief, a Gaza police official said.

The airstrikes set off huge explosions that turned the night sky over Gaza City orange early Tuesday. The sound of the blasts mixed with the thud of shelling, often just seconds apart, and the pre-dawn call to prayer from mosque loudspeakers.

The Israeli campaign, launched July 8, is aimed at stopping Hamas rocket fire into Israel, has killed more than 570 Palestinians, most of them civilians – including women and children.

The Israel military announced early Tuesday that two more soldiers had died, one from sniper fire on Monday and one from still unexplained causes, bringing the military death toll to 27. It's the highest number of Israeli military fatalities for any campaign since the 2006 Lebanon war. Two Israeli civilians have also been killed in the latest conflict.

The strikes came as UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry met in Cairo late Monday to launch the highest-level push yet to end the deadly conflict.

According to the UN, more than 100,000 people have fled their homes in Gaza, seeking shelter in the 69 schools run by the UNRWA, the United Nations agency responsible for providing assistance to Palestinian refugees.

"We witnessed the intense shelling of very densely populated areas," said FRANCE 24’s Fenwick. "Residents were running terrified out of their homes, not knowing where to go.

"You no longer feel safe wherever you are in Gaza."


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