IDF searches for officer kidnapped in Rafah attack that also killed 2 soldiers
Army in ‘race against time’ to retrieve Givati Brigade officer Hadar Goldin, seized by Hamas in attack that saw 2 soldiers killed, breached ceasefire
Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.
IDF soldier Hadar Goldin, an officer in the Givati Brigade, was apparently abducted in the Rafah area of Gaza on Friday morning, in an attack perpetrated some 90 minutes after the onset of a truce. He was formally designated missing in action, an IDF spokesman said Friday. Two IDF soldiers were killed in the attack.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Secretary of State John Kerry later Friday that Hamas would pay for breaching the truce. The White House condemned the alleged kidnapping as a “barbaric” breach of the ceasefire agreement.
Kerry condemned an “outrageous” violation by Palestinian militants of the Gaza ceasefire he helped to broker, and demanded that Hamas move to “immediately and unconditionally release” the missing Israeli soldier.
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.
“Everything that has happened since then in the Rafah area is on account of the attack,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner.
Hamas’s Moussa Abu Marzouk announced that it had captured the soldier, and claimed it did so before the ceasefire went into effect. A spokesman for the Hamas military wing in Gaza, however, denied any kidnapping, and Abu Marzouk later backtracked.
Palestinian sources in Rafah reported the most intense barrages yet during this campaign, leading to the deaths of more than 50 Palestinians, with upward of 200 wounded. Egypt reportedly shut all access to the Sinai Peninsula.
MK Omer Bar-Lev, a former commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, said the militants will have likely tried to get the soldier out of the area via tunnels. “It’s a race against time… by the ground forces, to close off the area, and search house by house,” he said.
The army said in an official statement that it was “currently conducting intelligence efforts and extensive searches in order to locate the missing soldier.”
Lerner added that only a short while elapsed between the attack and the realization that a soldier had gone missing. He said the searches were being led by Col. Ofer Winter, commander of the Givati Brigade, and that the soldier’s family had been updated on the situation.
Goldin, 23, is a 2nd.-Lt. in the Givati Brigade, from Kfar Saba. He has dual Israeli-British citizenship.
The incident came on the heels of a mortar attack Thursday evening, in which five Israeli soldiers were killed in the border region. The fatalities Thursday and Friday brought the IDF death toll up to 63 since the start of the operation.
The names of the five soldiers killed Thursday were announced: Staff Sergeant Noam Rosenthal, 20, an Armored Corps combat medic; Captain Omri Tal, 22, an Armored Corps combat officer from Yehud; Staff Sergeant (Res.) Daniel Marash, 22, an Armored Corps combat medic from Rishon Lezion; Staff Sergeant Shay Kushnir, 20, an Armored Corps combatant from Kiryat Motzkin; and Cpt. Liran Adir (Edry), 31, of Azuz.
A senior Israeli official slammed Hamas for again violating a humanitarian truce.
“It’s clear that Hamas has violated, yet again, another humanitarian ceasefire,” the official told The Times of Israel. “They broke commitments given to the United Nations secretary-general and to the United States secretary of state. This is obviously a flagrant violation of the ceasefire arrangement, which specifically allowed Israeli troops to remain in place and allowed us to continue to work on tunnels.”
Israel’s former national security adviser Giora Eiland said the incident marked “an escalation” in the Rafah area of the Strip where the kidnapping took place, as the IDF hunts for the soldier, but might also mark an escalation of the entire conflict.
In 2011, Israel released 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners in a deal to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, an IDF soldier who was kidnapped by Hamas in a tunnel raid into Israel in 2006, in which two IDF soldiers were killed, and held hostage in Gaza for five years.
UN special envoy Robert Serry said in a statement that he was informed by Israel of “a serious incident this morning” during the truce, involving “a tunnel behind IDF lines in the Rafah area of the Gaza Strip.
“The United Nations is not in a position to independently confirm these reports,” continued Serry. If confirmed, however, “this would constitute a serious violation of the humanitarian ceasefire in place since 8 a.m. this morning by Gazan militant factions, which should be condemned in the strongest terms.”
Serry called on the Palestinian factions to observe the humanitarian truce, and voiced concern about “serious consequences on the ground that could arise as a result of this incident.”
The IDF has constantly warned of the dangers of Hamas attempts to kidnap soldiers, and has thwarted several such efforts in the last few days.
AP contributed to this report