JERUSALEM – An Israeli soldier the military feared had been abducted by Palestinian gunmen in a firefight that shattered a temporary cease-fire in Gaza has been declared dead, ending what could have been a nightmare scenario for Israel hours after it signaled it plans to scale back its operation against Hamas militants.
The military announced early Sunday that 23-year-old Hadar Goldin of the Givati infantry brigade had been killed in battle on Friday. Israel’s defense minister, along with the chief military rabbi, met with the soldier’s family at the family’s home.
The Israeli military had previously said it believed the soldier was grabbed in a Hamas ambush about an hour after an internationally brokered cease-fire took effect Friday morning. Hamas on Saturday distanced itself from the soldier’s alleged capture, which had prompted widespread international condemnation. U.S. President Barack Obama, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and others had called for his release.
Israel has gone to great lengths in the past to get back its captured soldiers. In 2011, it traded over a thousand Palestinian prisoners, many involved in deadly attacks on civilians, for a single Israeli soldier who had been captured by Hamas-allied militants in 2006. Soon after the soldier was believed abducted on Friday, Israel conducted extensive searches in the territory and deployed heavy fire that killed scores of Palestinians.
Israel continued to pound Gaza with airstrikes Saturday, killing at least 72 Palestinians, many in Rafah where Israeli troops searched for the soldier.
In a televised address, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested that the Israeli military will reassess its Gaza operation once troops complete the demolition of Hamas tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border.
We promised to return the quiet to Israel and that is what we will do. We will continue to act until that goal is reached, however long it will take and with as much force needed, Netanyahu said. Hamas needs to understand that it will pay an intolerable price as far as it is concerned for continuing to fire.