Hamas kidnaps Israeli officer
Gaza City - A Gaza cease-fire quickly unravelled Friday as violence erupted in and around the southern town of Rafah, with at least 35 Palestinians killed by Israeli shelling and the military saying an infantry officer may have been captured.
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 08:00 (05:00 GMT) Friday. The fighting broke out less than two hours later.
The breakdown of the cease-fire and the apparent capture of the Israeli soldier set the stage for a major escalation of the 25-day-old conflict, which has already devastated large swaths of the impoverished coastal strip.
Israel had said it would continue demolishing cross-border tunnels behind its own defensive lines during the cease-fire, and the military said its troops were attacked during one such operation.
Gunmen emerged from one or more tunnel openings and opened fire, with at least one of the fighters detonating an explosives vest, Israeli army spokesperson Lt Col Peter Lerner said.
He said 2nd Lt Hadar Goldin, a 23-year-old from the town of Kfar Saba, was apparently captured during the ensuing mayhem and taken back into Gaza through a tunnel, while another two soldiers were killed.
"We suspect that he has been kidnapped," Lerner said, adding that the attack took place an hour and a half after the cease-fire began.
An Israeli official said the apparent abduction marked a "very dangerous escalation of violence" and that there would be no three-day humanitarian cease-fire. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.
It was not immediately clear if the possible abduction was linked to the heavy shelling in Rafah, which sent families fleeing from apartment blocks that had pillars of smoke rising from them. One woman carrying two children rushed toward a parked car. "Quickly, open the car door!" she yelled to a man standing nearby.
Ambulances ferried the wounded to Rafah's al-Najar hospital, where bloodied bodies on stretchers were carried inside and family members frantically searched for loved ones. Many of the injured were young children, their clothes stained with blood. In one hospital room, four children were treated on a single bed. Others were being examined on the floor.
The shelling killed at least 35 Palestinians and wounded another 200, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said.
He said the death toll could rise as rescue workers search for people buried under the rubble of several apartment blocks hit by shells. He did not say whether those killed were civilians or militants.
Hours ahead of the cease-fire, Gaza police reported heavy Israeli tank shelling in northern and eastern Gaza, and the loud exchange of fire with militants could be heard across Gaza City. Tank shells slammed into the city itself, setting homes and shops ablaze.
Hamas fighters hit an Israeli tank with an anti-tank missile, Gaza police said. The militants then attacked Israeli troops who came to evacuate the tank crew. Clashes continued into the early morning hours, police said.
The Israeli military said it was looking into the matter.