An Israeli soldier is missing following a deadly battle in the Gaza Strip, a defence official has said, while a medical chief in Gaza claims that Israeli air strikes hit a hospital yesterday.
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 defence 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.
We have just announced that out of the 7 soldiers attacked in the APC on Sunday in Shujai'ya #IDF has been able to identify 6.— LTC (R) Peter Lerner (@LTCPeterLerner) July 22, 2014
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 an Israeli soldier 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.
Meanwhile, staff at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital are said to be in shock that the building was hit during Israeli air strikes yesterday.
Fikr Shalltoot, director of programmes at Medical Aid for Palestinians in Gaza city, said: "People can't believe this is happening – that a medical hospital was shelled without the briefest warning. It was already full with patients."
Earlier this week the el-Wafa hospital was bombarded.
Basman Alashi, director of el-Wafa said that Israelis had destroyed the only rehab clinic in the West Bank and Gaza.
He said: "My 25 nurses could not stay on their feet for the smoke and the heat, but they managed to evacuate all of the patients."
Médecins Sans Frontières have said: "The majority of the dead and wounded in Gaza are civilians, and medical workers are now also coming under fire."
Doctor Nidal Saadeh is a Palestinian doctor, from Bethlehem West Bank who now lives and works in Drogheda Co Louth.
Dr Saadeh said: "The situation in Gaza is desperate. Hospitals are without equipment, blood, drugs and all of the normal things that we need to care for people and now their ambulances, hospitals and personnel are targets.
"There is no excuse for this. Where are the principals of Medical Neutrality, whereby medical personnel must be allowed to treat everyone, without any interference and without coming under attack? Hospitals, clinics and ambulances must not be deliberately targeted. Violations of medical neutrality constitute crimes outlined in the Geneva Conventions but more importantly for us as people, they are crimes against humanity."