Hamas’s armed wing on Saturday said it had lost contact with the cell which carried out an attack on IDF troops in Rafah Friday — killing two soldiers and apparently kidnapping the third, 2nd. Lt. Hadar Goldin — and said it believed its operatives had been killed by Israeli air force strikes and that Goldin, if with them, was dead as well.
In a statement issued in the early morning hours, the terror group said “The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades has no information on this soldier. We have lost contact with the combatant group that took part in the ambush, and we believe its members were killed in the [IDF] strikes.
“Assuming they managed to capture the soldier during the battle, we believe he may have also been killed.”
Hamas has been inconsistent in its stance on the alleged kidnapping, with its No. 2 leader Moussa Abu Marzouk at first confirming that a soldier had been captured, then later backtracking. Different spokesmen for the organization have intermittently denied the abduction or refused to discuss it.
It was unclear whether Saturday’s statement was a frank confession of the group’s own confusion over the incident or an attempt to mislead Israel as it searches for Goldin.
The raid, which included a suicide bombing and involved enemy gunmen emerging from a tunnel shaft, came at 9:30 in the morning, during the early hours of what was to have been a 72-hour truce, and may signal a significant escalation in the 25-day-old war with Gaza.
A suicide bomber and other gunmen engaged the IDF forces as they sought to decommission a tunnel. Shortly after the combined attack, it became clear to Israeli forces in the area that a soldier was missing.
Hamas has confirmed the raid itself, but claims it took place around 7 a.m., before the truce took effect. Israel has repeatedly called this a lie.
Following the incident, and in response to renewed rocket attacks against Israel, the IDF has engaged in heavy shelling and air strikes throughout Gaza and particularly in the Rafah area as it rushed to locate the missing soldier and prevent him from being smuggled away to a secret location. Palestinians in Gaza say over 100 people have been killed in these attacks, many of them civilians. The IDF has told residents of Rafah to stay indoors for their own safety as troops scour the area for clues.
In an unusually strong statement Friday afternoon, US President Barack Obama called for Hamas to unconditionally release Goldin.
“If they are serious about resolving the situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible,” Obama told reporters during a quickly scheduled press conference. He placed the blame for any continuing difficulties on the ceasefire squarely on Hamas. “I think it’s going to be very hard to put a ceasefire back together again if Israel and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a ceasefire commitment,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told US Secretary of State John Kerry during a phone call earlier that “Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip will bear the consequences of their actions.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned the abduction “in the strongest terms,” saying that such action “would constitute a grave violation of the ceasefire.”