Israel to step up onslaught as soldier snatched
Israel was poised to dramatically escalate its military offensive in Gaza last night after one of its soldiers was kidnapped by militants, shattering a fragile ceasefire and again dashing hopes of an end to the bloody conflict.
Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin (23), who spent part of his childhood in Britain, was reportedly seized in a shootout with militants – one of whom wore a suicide belt – who emerged from a tunnel in the town of Rafah.
Two other soldiers died in the incident, which Israel said happened before 9.30am local time, less than 90 minutes after the start of a 72-hour ceasefire brokered by the US and the UN.
Lt Goldin, from Kfar Saba, near Tel Aviv, is understood to have spent time in Britain when he was 12 and 15, when his parents – both academics – taught at Cambridge University.
Barry Landy, of the Cambridge Traditional Jewish Congregation, said Lt Goldin had his bar mitzvah in Cambridge. "Hadar was a nice boy," he said. "The news is terribly shocking."
Speaking last year of his decision to become an officer in the Israeli army, Lt Goldin said: "In life, you can choose to do things for yourself and you can choose to do great things."
Both his grandfathers were Holocaust survivors who took part in Israel's War of Independence in 1948. The Board of Deputies of British Jews expressed its "dismay and revulsion" at Lt Goldin's capture.
Yesterday's incident provoked an Israeli onslaught on Rafah – a historical flashpoint near the Egyptian border – that left at least 62 Palestinians dead and many more injured after hours of shelling.
Hamas, the Islamist movement in de facto control of Gaza, threatened last month that it would kidnap Israeli soldiers in the event of a land invasion of the coastal territory.
The abduction of one of its soldiers is one of Israel's deep-seated fears. In 2006, Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, was kidnapped by Hamas and only released five years later in return for Israel freeing more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
The Israeli army has instituted a rule known as the Hannibal Procedure which includes orders calling for the bombardment of all possible escape routes preventing the spiriting away of any abducted soldier.
There were immediate calls in Israel for punitive revenge action in Gaza, where more than 1,500 Palestinians, many of them women and children, have died since the fighting began on July 8. Three civilians in Israel and 63 Israeli soldiers have died.
There was no confirmation from Hamas of the kidnapping. Instead, it blamed Israel for breaking the ceasefire, saying that yesterday's tunnel clash had happened before the truce took effect.
The incident drew condemnation from both the US and UN, who accepted Israel's version of events.
Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, called the abduction "absolutely outrageous" and "a barbaric breach of the ceasefire". (© Daily Telegraph, London)