A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing said on Sunday the group had captured an Israeli soldier during fighting in the Gaza Strip.
Speaking on a Hamas television station, the masked spokesman, Abu Ubaida, said “Qassam Brigades have captured a Zionist soldier and the occupation has not admitted that.”
Israeli television stations ignored the report in their extended evening programming about the offensive. The Israeli military refused to confirm or deny the rumor, saying only that it was investigating the reported capture.
Hamas named the Israeli soldier as Shaul Aron and showed his ID papers. It showed no picture of him in their hands, raising questions about the veracity of the claim.
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations flatly denied the claim.
But Israel’s military said it was still investigating.
“We still cannot rule it out,” military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said on Monday.
If confirmed, 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 capture in a raid.
However, Haaretz reported that “IDF sources said that the Hamas claim sounded dubious and the chances that Hamas was holding an IDF soldier were slim.”
Hamas identified the kidnapped soldier as 21-year-old Shaul Aron, a Golani brigade infantryman, and gave his military number as 6092065.
The spokesman, who provided no other evidence the soldier was in the custody of Islamist militants, said the capture happened during the same battle in which 13 Israeli soldiers died earlier, near the embattled Gaza neighborhood of Shejaia.
Confusing the situation is the fact that the name “Shaul Aron” is extremely similar to “Oron Shaul,” whom Israel identified as one of the 13 killed soldiers. As BuzzFeed’s Sheera Frenkel noted, the spelling of “Oron” could also be pronounced “Aron” in Hebrew. Social media users have been posting condolences on Oron Shaul’s personal Facebook page since Israel’s military reported the soldier’s death on Sunday afternoon.
Whether or not an Israeli soldier has in fact been captured, Palestinians interpreted the report as being true.
Immediately following the Hamas announcement, celebrations erupted in Palestinian cities, with gunshots and fireworks filling the streets of Gaza City and Bethlehem. Crowds packed the streets of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, into the early morning hours.
The broadcast came on a day when more than 100 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza.