More than 40 Palestinians have been killed and a British-Educated soldier has been abducted in dramatic developments just hours after a three-day cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was brokered.
Israel and Hamas accused each other of breaking the cease-fire, which had been announced by the US and the UN and took effect at 8:00 am Friday, but fighting broke out less than two hours later.
Channel 4 News reported that the soldier thought to have been captured by Hamas was Lieutenant Hadar Goldin. The 23-year-old is believed to have lived in Cambridge twice during his life, according to the Jewish Chronicle, once aged 12 and once aged 15, but a source told the paper that he did not believe Goldin had British citizenship.
The Foreign Office has no information to suggest that an Israeli soldier feared to have been abducted by Hamas is a British citizen, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has said.
Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said that the apparent abduction took place when Palestinian gunmen emerged from their network of tunnels, with at least one fighter detonating an explosives vest.
In the ensuing mayhem, Lt Goldin was apparently captured and taken back into Gaza through a tunnel, while another two soldiers were killed.
"We suspect that he has been kidnapped," Col Lerner said.
An Israeli official said the apparent abduction marked a "very dangerous escalation of violence" and that there would be no three-day cease-fire.
The US's deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said if the soldier was, in fact, kidnapped by Hamas militants, he must be released.
"There are reports that Hamas used the cover of a humanitarian cease-fire to attack Israeli soldiers and apparently to take one hostage," Blinken told The Associated Press. "That would be a barbaric violation of the cease-fire agreement. We ... call on the international community to condemn this violation of the case-fire agreement and we urge those with influence over Hamas to exercise that influence to get Hamas to return the soldier that has been taken hostage and to live up to the agreements that were made just yesterday."
"We're troubled by these reports and what appears to be a rather barbaric violation of the cease-fire agreement," he said. "There's no doubt that that soldier should be returned unharmed and immediately."
Israel shelling killed dozens in the eastern part of Rafah on the Egyptian border. The much-vaunted three-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas crumbled within hours, with both sides accusing each other of breaking the truce. Israel said that Hamas had taken advantage of the ceasefire to kidnap the soldier, Palestinians say it was the Israelis who fired first.
Secretary of State John Kerry, who along with UN chief Ban Ki-moon negotiated the short-lived truce, spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about developments, which led Israel to declare the cease-fire over. The State Department was expected to release a statement from Kerry, who is currently flying back to the United States from India where he had been on official travel.
According to Netanyahu's office, the prime minister told Kerry that "Hamas has unilaterally and grossly violated the humanitarian cease-fire" and "will bear the consequences of their actions."
Both Israel and Hamas had agreed to conduct only defensive missions for the next three days, but much of the cease-fire agreement was couched in pessimism, with US Secretary of State John Kerry saying there were "no guarantees" of a more permanent end to the conflict.
Each of the four short humanitarian cease-fire brokered during the four week conflict have been broken by both sides within hours. Under this particular agreement Israeli troops on the ground in Gaza were permitted to continue to destroy tunnels that are behind Israeli defensive lines and lead into Israel.
In the hours before the cease-fire was to take effect, 17 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes, including 10 from the same family, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza. Israel's military said five of its soldiers were killed along the Gaza border.
More than 1,500 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed since hostilities began. Israel says more than 60 of its soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
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On its official Twitter feed, an IDF spokesman said: "2nd. Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23 from Kfar Saba, is the soldier suspected to be kidnapped by Hamas earlier today.
"We suspect that a group of Hamas terrorists, including a suicide attacker, kidnapped 2nd. Lt. Goldin at 9:30am and dragged him into a tunnel.
"Hamas terrorists killed two IDF soldiers during the suspected kidnapping of 2nd Lt. Goldin this morning."
A spokesman for the Board of Deputies of British Jews said: "The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, on behalf of the UK Jewish community, would like to express our dismay and revulsion at the kidnapping.
"The kidnapping took place as part of a violent ambush by Hamas, within hours of the UN, US and Egypt-backed '72-hour cease-fire' taking effect."
It is believed that Lt Goldin lived for several years in Cambridge with his family.
Rabbi Reuven Leigh, who is a chaplain at the University of Cambridge and a rabbi in the local community, wrote on Twitter: "Shaken to hear of Hadar Goldin's kidnapping, he spent a few years living in Cambridge with his family, please pray for his safe return."
He said he knew the 23-year-old from a number of years ago when he lived in Cambridge with his family but did not want to comment further.