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In Gaza, A Glimmer Of Hope For Cease-Fire Is Snuffed Out Early


A glimmer of hope in the battle in Gaza quickly vanished today. A three-day cease-fire had barely begun when fighting resume. And today the conflict took an ominous turn that is almost sure to prolong the fighting and complicate attempts at peace. The Israeli military says it believes one of its soldiers was captured by Hamas militants. We're going to talk with our two correspondents in the region. We begin with this report from Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Jerusalem.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Israeli army spokesman Captain Eytan Buchman explains what happened to the missing soldier, who is a 23-year-old second lieutenant named Hadar Goldin.

CAPTAIN EYTAN BUCHMAN: We suspect that he was abducted today at 9:30 a.m. during an attempt to decommission a tunnel down South in Rafah. Right now IDF forces are continuing to operate in the area in order to identify his position and locate him.

NELSON: The goal is to prevent Goldin's captors from moving him deeper into the Gaza Strip where he will be more difficult to find, Buchman says. He declined to say whether Israel believes the officer is alive or dead.

BUCHMAN: We're still looking into the exact details. Right now what we understand from the field was that a suicide bomber detonated his charge nearby. And following that, a number of terrorists emerged from a tunnel. During the course of that attack, another two IDF soldiers were also killed.

NELSON: A friend said Goldin was engaged to be married in two months to a woman whose family was evacuated from a Gaza settlement during Israel's pullout there in 2005. Goldin's capture intensifies the 25-day-old conflict that has demolished large parts of the Gaza Strip. In an interview with the BBC, Sabri Saidam, who is deputy secretary-general of the Palestinian Fatah Party, slammed Israel and accused it of breaking the cease-fire.


SABRI SAIDAM: I don't know why the world is focusing on one specific soldier and ignoring the fact that 1,400 Palestinians are being killed. Why do we always get the feeling that we are the children of a lesser God?

NELSON: Israel, however, blames Hamas for breaking the cease-fire, and dismissed the group's claims that they attacked Goldin's squad before the truce began. Whatever the case, capturing an Israeli soldier was a top Hamas priority says Shaul Shay, a reservist colonel who heads the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. That's because the last time the group did so in 2006, the Israeli government, after five years, agreed to exchange the soldier for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, Shay says.

SHAUL SHAY: I would like to remind you that the Israeli society, in general, was in favor of this. Maybe this is the uniqueness of the Israeli society is that it's ready on the one hand to go to a war in order to release a kidnapped soldier. And on the other hand, we are ready, as well, to pay very high price.

NELSON: Shay says it's clear Hamas plans to try to leverage Goldin the same way, which is why he says the military will do whatever it can to find the soldier. The missing soldier's father, Simcha Goldin, agrees.


NELSON: He told Israel Army Radio that he's sure Israeli forces will leave no stone unturned to bring his son home alive.

SHAPIRO: That was NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Jerusalem. And we're joined now by her as well as NPR's Emily Harris in Gaza. Welcome to both of you.


NELSON: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: To begin with you, Emily, what are Hamas sources saying about this apparent capture of an Israeli soldier today?

HARRIS: They're saying different things, Ari. One Hamas political leader, Mousa Abu Marzuq, who was in Gaza for a long time and is now in Cairo - he has said that the military wing of Hamas carried out no operations after eight a.m. That's when the cease-fire started. So, as we heard Soraya mention in her piece, he's saying, basically, the attack on Israeli troops happened before eight a.m. Another Hamas figure - political leader, Osama Hamdan, told the Arabic channel of French 24 T.V. that he knows nothing about a captured soldier. He basically accused Israel of lying to justify the shelling in Rafah that killed at least 35 people according to Palestinian officials. I also spoke to a Fatah member, Hanan Ashrawi. She's been working to get a delegation to Cairo that would include both Fatah and Hamas. She basically said Hamas may not have done anything - that no one's claimed and responsibility, and she felt there was no reason that truce negotiations in Cairo could not go forward anyway.

SHAPIRO: So mixed messages from Palestinian leaders on a day that was supposed to be quiet but was not. How heavy a day of violence has this been in Gaza?

HARRIS: For about an hour it wasn't violent, and then, you know, as I just mentioned, there was this shelling incident in the South near the eastern border with Israel. This was all going on at around the same time as the attack that Israel says wound up with one of their soldiers missing and two killed. That shelling - about 35 bodies were brought to the local hospitals say Palestinian health officials. And more bodies were not yet recovered, they say. There were other incidents around Gaza today. The Palestinian officials say there were snipers in several different places that killed more than a dozen people. We heard air strikes here in Gaza city in the afternoon. Also, during the cease-fire people did venture into areas that have seen lots of destruction and were recovering bodies from the rubble. Some of them had been there for several days. And then there were rockets. Israel says 61 rockets were launched at Israel today. I saw one fly north - a white trail in a very blue sky.

SHAPIRO: And those rockets have been flying for weeks. But Soraya, from where you're sitting, in Jerusalem, does it seem that the abduction of this soldier is a turning point in this conflict? What is the mood like in Israel?

NELSON: Well, people are very angry and rattled about the reports that this soldier is missing and two more were killed. Israel had made it pretty clear from the beginning that it was going to continue with the demolition of tunnels and destruction of any arsenal that Hamas has in Gaza to protect its citizens here in Israel. And so it was sort of seen as foul play or that Hamas was at fault here for attacking the soldiers as they were doing just that during the time of the cease-fire. And so there was a prayer vigil tonight for the missing soldier, but people here - and the analysts and experts I've spoken to say that they're fairly convinced this is only going to galvanize people more - that there's not going to be a mood for a cease-fire - that they're going to want Israel and the military to get this young man back.

SHAPIRO: And Emily, how are people in Gaza reacting to this apparent capture of an Israeli soldier?

HARRIS: People I spoke to were mostly disappointed that this war isn't over as they thought it was going to be when they got up this morning. Some said they were fearful that things are going to get worse now. As far as specifically what difference a captured soldier would make to this war, one man I spoke to who was selling water jugs by the side of the road - he said he believes it will help the Palestinian position. He believes this will pressure Israel to come to a truce sooner, but a grocer I spoke to in Gaza said he's just sick of politics. He has no idea if a captured Israeli soldier will help or hurt Palestinians, and he has no idea whether it will help or hurt getting to peace.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Emily Harris in Gaza and Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Jerusalem. Thank you to both of you.

NELSON: You're welcome.

HARRIS: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.
Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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