An Israeli soldier is missing following a deadly battle in the Gaza Strip, a defence official has said. He was identified this morning as 20-year-old Oron Shaul.
The development adds a potential complication to intensive diplomatic efforts to end more than two weeks of fighting between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers in which at least 570 Palestinians and 29 Israelis have been killed.
The defense official said the soldier disappeared after a deadly battle in Gaza over the weekend and it was not immediately clear if he was dead or alive.
Israeli media, meanwhile, said the soldier went missing while he was travelling in an armoured personnel carrier which came under attack over the weekend in Gaza City’s Shijaiyah neighbourhood, which Israel says is a major source of rocket fire against its civilians.
The reports, which were not confirmed by the military, did not say if the soldier was dead or alive. Some media said the soldier was probably dead.
Military spokesman Peter Lerner said on Twitter that out of seven Israeli soldiers attacked on Sunday, Israel has been able to identify six.
Hamas earlier this week claimed it had captured an Israeli soldier. Israel’s UN ambassador initially denied the claim but the military neither confirmed nor denied it.
In the past Israel has paid a heavy price to retrieve its soldiers – dead or alive – captured by its enemies.
For Israelis, a captured soldier would be a nightmare scenario. Hamas-allied militants seized Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid in 2006 and held him captive in Gaza until Israel traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, some of whom were involved in grisly killings, for his return in 2011.