Gaza, July 21 (Reuters): Residents of the Gaza Strip, mostly house-bound and fearful after 13 days of Israeli bombardment, lit fireworks and chanted “God is great” into the early morning darkness today after Hamas said it had captured an Israeli soldier.
Abu Ubaida, the masked and camouflaged spokesman of the Palestinian Islamist militant group's armed wing, announced that a soldier named as Shaul Alon was seized in heavy fighting on the Gaza border yesterday.
He displayed Alon’s photo ID and serial number but showed no image of him in captivity. Israel’s envoy to the UN denied the claim but its army has neither confirmed nor denied the report and a spokesman said today: “We still cannot rule it out.”
The report buoyed weary Gazans’ flagging morale. If confirmed, it would fulfil long-standing promises by Hamas to grab troops in hopes of trading them for Palestinian prisoners, raising its popularity.
“Hundreds of martyrs have fallen and we’re under attack 24-hours a day... but today is like a holiday and we feel joy that a soldier is in our hands and we hope more will follow,” said vegetable seller Musa Abu Attiyeh, pausing as an Israeli rocket whizzed past and crashed nearby, shaking his shop. “Abu Ubaida’s words are bullets, stronger than bullets. He doesn’t lie, ever,” the shopkeeper said.
“Now it’s the Jews’ turn to feel the pressure and worry, and we will see our sons from the jails celebrating at home soon, God willing.”
Thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed in heavy fighting yesterday in the eastern border town of Shejaia, where Hamas said it snatched the soldier in a rocket strike on an Israeli troop carrier.
Israel has not yet released the names of all the dead, suggesting it is still verifying their identities from the remains.
Hamas gained Palestinian acclaim and plaudits from backers in the Arab world when in 2011 it parlayed the release of an Israeli conscript soldier abducted five years earlier in a cross-border raid into the freeing of more than 1,000 Palestinians from Israeli prisons.
Gilad Shalit’s lengthy captivity in Gaza was a wrenching ordeal for Israel, where military service is compulsory and many identified with his predicament.