The body of IDF soldier Sgt. Oron Shaul, which was not retrieved after a bloody attack in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood on July 20, is in Hamas’s possession, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon told Shaul’s family on Sunday. Ya’alon stressed that the government is doing everything in its power in order to bring Shaul’s body back to Israel for burial.

The missing soldier’s remains have not been found, but on July 25, a special IDF ethics committee ruled that sufficient evidence existed to determine that Shaul was killed in the attack. IDF Chief Rabbi Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz notified the soldier’s family that Shaul was designated a fallen soldier “whose place of burial is unknown.”

Shaul was killed on board a 1970s-model armored personnel carrier which stalled in one of Shejaiya’s narrow streets. Shortly after the vehicle came to a halt, Hamas operatives opened fire at the APC. An anti-tank missile later penetrated the vehicle’s hull and exploded, causing immense damage and killing all the soldiers inside.

After the explosion, troops in the area attempted to reach the APC in order to evacuate their comrades. According to Channel 10, the army promptly summoned a drone over the neighborhood to provide visual assistance to the soldiers from above. The IDF noted that no Hamas members were seen making contact with the APC or any of the bodies at the time. However, the IDF succeeded in evacuating and identifying the bodies of only six soldiers who were in the vehicle, but was unable to locate any traces of Shaul, the seventh soldier.

Sgt. Oron Shaul, whose death in Gaza on July 20 was formally confirmed by the IDF on July 25 (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Sgt. Oron Shaul, whose death in Gaza on July 20 was formally confirmed by the IDF on July 25 (Photo credit: Courtesy)

On Sunday, the ZAKA International Rescue and Recovery organization sent a letter to UN envoy Robert Serry, asking for permission to enter Gaza in order to retrieve the remains of Shaul and Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was killed during an ambush in Rafah on August 1.

“Given our decades of experience as a UN-recognized international humanitarian volunteer organization in recovering human remains of disaster victims, we turn to you, as the UN Representative in the Middle East, to help facilitate the return of the soldiers’ body parts,” the letter read.

Last week, Egyptian media reported that as part of ceasefire talks in Cairo, Israel had negotiated with Hamas for the return of remains of soldiers Shaul and Goldin, in return for freeing Hamas captives from the past few weeks of combat. According to Channel 2, reports indicated that Israel would return eight bodies and some 15 captured Hamas gunmen. Israeli officials were later quoted as denying the reports, and branding them as psychological warfare.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also requested the Red Cross to assist Israel in locating the bodies of the two soldiers and returning them to their families for burial.

A funeral was held for Goldin, and a coffin was interred. None was held for Shaul.