Hamas' military wing said it has captured an Israel Defense Forces, or IDF, soldier during an early-morning operation on Sunday in the Gaza Strip, a claim that has been denied by Israel.
“There's no kidnapped Israeli soldier, and those rumors are untrue," Ron Prosor, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations told reporters at the U.N. in New York.
Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas' military wing, had in a video provided details of the captured soldier's name and ID, stating: "He is a prisoner, and if Zionists lie about the dead and wounded, then the fate of this soldier is their responsibility."
Obeida identified the kidnapped soldier as 21-year-old Shaul Aron, a Golani Brigade infantryman, and gave his military number as 6092065. Hamas claimed to have captured the soldier during the same battle in which 13 Israeli soldiers of the elite battalion had died earlier, in the city of Shuja’iyya.
Gunfire and cheers reportedly erupted in Gaza and the West Bank on Sunday after Hamas' announcement as Palestinians celebrated the alleged capture of the soldier.
Hamas' latest claim, if true, would be the second time an IDF soldier has been taken hostage since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by militants in 2006, and was held captive for five years before being released in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
The number of deaths reported from Gaza rose sharply after Israel escalated its offensive on the town of Shuja’iyya, which sent hundreds of panic-stricken people fleeing into Gaza City.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, speaking to Al Jazeera, said that Israel committed "a crime against humanity," and that most of those killed in Shuja’iyya were women and children, CNN reported.
The Israeli military said it had warned Shuja’iyya’s residents many days in advance to leave the city, which it claimed is a base for Hamas to launch rockets into Israel. Israel has also accused Hamas of putting Palestinian civilians in the line of fire by not letting them leave the area and of using them as human shields.
Israel said 13 of its soldiers were killed on Sunday, bringing IDF's total losses to 18, in addition to two civilians on the Israeli side. The Palestinian death toll crossed 500, according to estimates, as the latest round of conflict is about to enter its third week.