International

US, Israel demand missing soldier; Hamas denies knowledge

JERUSALEM: The armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas said on Saturday it had no clear indication on the whereabouts of an Israeli soldier that Israel has accused it of abducting in the Gaza Strip, adding he may have been killed during an ambush.

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Israel said Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, 23, who went missing on Friday, had been abducted by Hamas gunmen. It declared a planned 72-hour Gaza ceasefire over, saying Hamas militants breached the truce soon after it took effect.

The ceasefire lasted only about 90 minutes early on Friday. Israel resumed shelling, killing at least 150 Palestinians and wounding hundreds of others, hospital officials said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his security cabinet into special session and warned Hamas and other militant groups they would “bear the consequences of their actions”.

But a statement by Hamas’s armed wing said it had no contact with militants who were operating in the southern Gaza Strip where Israel said Goldin went missing.

“We have lost contact with the group of fighters that took part in the ambush and we believe they were all killed in the (Israeli) bombardment. Assuming that they managed to seize the soldier during combat, we assess that he was also killed in the incident,” the statement said.

The planned 72-hour break in fighting announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hours before it was due to take effect early on Friday was the most ambitious attempt so far to end more than three weeks of fighting.

At least 1,592 Gazans have been killed since the start of hostilities on July 8 when Israel launched its drive to halt militant rocket fire on its territory from the coastal enclave by unleashing air and naval bombardments. Tanks and infantry pushed into the territory of 1.8 million people on July 17.

Sixty-three Israeli soldiers have been killed, and Palestinian rockets have killed three civilians in Israel.

U.S. President Barack Obama called for the soldier’s unconditional release and said it would be tough to reinstate a truce after the day’s events.

“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 told a White House news conference.

Obama said he has been in constant contact with Netanyahu about the situation, and added that more needed to be done to protect Palestinian civilians.

Hamas, isolated in an Arab world concerned about the rise Islamist militancy, is seeking an end to Israel’s blockade of Gaza. It also wants a hostile Egypt to ease restrictions at its Rafah crossing with the territory imposed after the military toppled Islamist president Mohamed Mursi last year- Reuters

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