On Sunday evening, following the bloodiest day in Gaza since Israel began shelling the region on July 8, Hamas fighters announced that they have captured a 21-year-old Israeli soldier named Shaul Aron. Abu Obaida, a spokesman for the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, recited Aron's identity-tag number on Gaza TV and said he was captured during the battle in the Shejaiya neighborhood that killed 13 Israeli soldiers and at least 80 Palestinians earlier in the day. Israel tried to downplay the report. While the Israeli military said it was investigating Hamas's claim, it was not mentioned on Israeli news broadcasts. “There's no kidnapped Israeli soldier and those rumors are untrue,” Ron Prosor, Israel’s UN ambassador, told reporters.
Hamas has made false claims about capturing Israelis in the past, but if the report proves to be true, it would be catastrophic for Israelis. Aron would be the first Israeli soldier captured in Gaza since Gilad Shalit was released in 2011. Shalit spent five years in captivity before Israel agreed to free 1,027 mostly Palestinian prisoners to secure his release.
Aside from Aron's name and identity-tag number, Hamas has not released any evidence of his capture. As BuzzFeed notes, Shaul Aron, the name Hamas said on TV and posted on social media sites, is very similar to that of Shaul Oron, an Israeli soldier who was reportedly killed last night. On Twitter, Israeli human rights worker Elizabeth Tsurkov said Oron's name was on a leaked list of Israeli casualties, and his body is in the hospital:
Shaul Oron's body is currently located at Tel HaShomer hospital. Soon to be transferred to Abu Kabir morgue, then to burial.— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) July 20, 2014
The source to the location of the bodies is a soldier from the Rabbinate who is with the bodies now.— Elizabeth Tsurkov (@Elizrael) July 20, 2014
Nevertheless, in several Palestinian cities people responded to the news by celebrating in the streets and setting off fireworks. Samer Seoudi, a Gaza lawyer, told BuzzFeed, "People are celebrating because for over a week it was been nothing but misery in Gaza. They now feel like their side has accomplished something, and maybe this will make the war end."