Israel has denied that one of its soldiers had been captured by Hamas in overnight fighting, as the death toll in the Gaza Strip passed 500, the Gaza health ministry said.
Al-Qassam brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, said Israeli soldier Shaul Aron was captured late on Sunday, but Ron Prosor, Israel’s ambassador to the UN dismissed the claim, saying that “those rumours were untrue”.
Osama Hamdan, a Hamas leader and spokesman, told Al Jazeera that the Israeli soldier had been captured: “Al-Qassam declared all the information about the military operations. When we said we captured the soldier, it’s true and everyone has to deal with that as true.”
The Qassam brigades did not say whether the captured soldier was dead or alive.
Aron would be the first Israeli soldier held captive in Gaza since 2011, when Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to free Gilad Shalit, a soldier who was held for more than five years after his 2006 capture in a cross-border raid.
Aron was allegedly captured amid overnight fighting in the eastern part of the Palestinian enclave, where heavy shelling continued into Monday morning.
At least 75 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed overnight in Gaza’s Shujayea neighbourhood. The US state department confirmed that two of the Israeli soldiers were US citizens.
It remains unclear whether they held Israeli citizenship as well.
Israel maintains that its offensive is targeting Hamas fighters in Gaza and a network of underground tunnels which they say are used to attack their troops and civilians.
On Monday, the Israeli army said that “two terrorist squads infiltrated Israel through a tunnel from north Gaza” and that it “killed 10 terrorists”.
Spokesperson Peter Lerner told Al Jazeera that the Israeli army hit 16 tunnels with 45 access points so far.
Lerner identified the civilian deaths in Gaza as a “human tragedy”, but defended the army’s offensive saying that it was “a result of Hamas’ policies”.
“In this conflict, there is only one party that cares about the civilian population of Gaza and it isn’t Hamas […] They are abusing and exploiting the civilians.”
At least 512 Palestinians have been killed since the start of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” on July 8, of which the UN says the majority were civilians. At least 20 Israelis, mostly soldiers, have also been killed.
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