(Reuters) — Israel said on Tuesday it had failed to trace any remains of one of its soldiers whom it believes died in the Gaza Strip two days ago, and whom Hamas has said it captured.
The Israeli military named the missing man as Oron Shaul, 21, who was traveling in an armored vehicle that was hit with an anti-tank missile fired at it by Palestinian fighters in Gaza on Sunday.
Six other soldiers were in the vehicle at the same time and their remains have all been identified, the army said in a statement. “The efforts to identify the seventh soldier are ongoing and have yet to be determined,” it added.
Hamas’s armed wing announced on Sunday it had captured an Israeli soldier identified as Shaul Aron, revealing his army ID number, but not saying whether he was dead or alive.
The Israeli military has not clearly classified the soldier as missing, dead or alive.
“We are still trying to locate one soldier from the team that was in the APC,” chief military spokesman Brigadier-General Motti Almoz said on Israel Radio.
Shaul’s cousin, Racheli Gazit, told reporters that the army had informed the family that its examination of the wrecked APC had so far not turned up any remains of her relative, but that there were more findings still being looked at.
“As far as the family is concerned, as long as there are no conclusive findings, Oron is not dead,” she told reporters.
One Israeli official, involved in the investigation, suggested that Hamas might have the remains of the soldier.
“Everything in our analysis points to the soldier not having survived the incident. As far as we are concerned Hamas is trafficking in human remains,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Israel on Thursday launched a ground offensive into the Gaza Strip to halt rocket fire out of the territory. Some 600 Palestinians, many of them civilians, and 29 Israelis, 27 of them soldiers, have died so far in the conflict.
Israel has agreed to mass releases of Palestinian prisoners in the past to secure the freedom of captured soldiers, or even for the return of the bodies of its citizens.
In 2011, Israel released more than 1,000 prisoners in exchange for an abducted Israeli conscript soldier, whom Hamas had seized in a cross-border raid and held for five years.
Hamas’ announcement on Sunday that it had captured an Israeli soldier sparked celebrations in Gaza.