Doctors in Gaza forced to use vegetable fridges to store bodies as Hamas denies killing kidnapped soldier
New photos from Gaza show bloodied bodies piled high in a walk-in vegetable fridge as a fresh wave of violence engulfs the region, where Israel and Hamas have traded furious accusations over who is to blame.
Hamas admitted today it may have seized the Israeli soldier whose alleged kidnapping yesterday morning left a 72-hour truce in tatters.
But fighters insisted they did not kill 23-year-old Lieutenant Hadar Goldin - who is still officially considered missing - claiming instead that he was 'probably' killed as Hamas battled Israeli forces.
The group's armed wing said it lost contact with its fighters as they ambushed advancing Israeli troops an hour before the ceasefire was due to begin yesterday in the Gaza city of Rafah.
Today's statement came as Israel unleashed a fresh wave of air strikes which completely destroyed Gaza City's Imam Al Shafaey mosque and damaged the historic al-Omeri mosque in the nearby city of Jabalia.
The statement by Hamas' Qassam Brigades said the ambush happened at 7am, not after the truce began as Israel had alleged.
The armed wing wrote: 'We lost contact with the (Hamas) troops deployed in the ambush and assess that these troops were probably killed by enemy bombardment, including the soldier said to be missing - presuming that our troops took him prisoner during the clash.
'The Qassam Brigades has no information as of this time about the missing soldier, his whereabouts, or the circumstances of his disappearance.'
Israel continued to bombard Gaza today as both sides traded accusations that they had breached ceasefire agreements.
At least 35 Palestinians were killed early today in the bombardment and shelling in and around Rafah, where health officials said the main hospital had to be evacuated.
Elsewhere in Gaza, Palestinian officials reported more than 150 airstrikes including several against mosques and one against the Hamas-linked Islamic University in Gaza City.
The Israeli military, which said it struck 200 targets over the previous 24 hours, insisted it had attacked five mosques because they were concealing weapons.
The military added the Islamic University was being used as a research and weapons manufacturing site for Hamas.
The death toll in the 26-day conflict now stands at more than 1,650 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and at least 63 Israeli soldiers and three civilians.
The three-day ceasefire would have allowed desperately-needed aid relief to reach the 1.8.million Palestinians who live in tightly-packed communities on the Gaza Strip.
Today the Israeli military told Palestinians who fled fighting in the 70,000-strong Gaza town of Beit Lahiya they could return, signalling its offensive in that part of the region was winding down.
'The residents are advised to beware of explosive devices Hamas has spread across the area,' the military added in a statement.
Today's statement by Hamas tells a different version of events to yesterday's incident to that provided by Israel.
Israel said Palestinian gunmen stormed out of a tunnel to ambush its infantrymen in southern Rafah at 9.30am, one and a half hours after the truce began, killing two soldiers and hauling away Lieutenant Goldin.
But Hamas, though it admitted conducting an ambush, said it happened at 7am - before the start of the ceasefire - and all its men and the Israeli soldier were 'probably' killed in the fighting that followed.
The incident triggered a mid-morning wave of Israeli shelling in Rafah that killed 150 Palestinians and by early afternoon, Israel had officially declared an end to the truce.
Yesterday's incident prompted the United Nations - which has also slammed Israel's conduct - to criticise Hamas' actions which the U.S. government described as 'barbaric'.
President Obama called for the immediate return of the kidnapped soldier at the same time as Congress voted almost unanimously to pledge another $225million to restocking Israel's Iron Dome rocket defence system.
One of the most advanced missile defence systems in the world, the Iron Dome has been credited by Israel's authorities with shooting down dozens of Hamas rockets.
Just eight members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted against providing the funding while 395 voted in favour.
The U.S. backs Israel in its pledge to continue searching for Hamas tunnels under the border between Israel and Gaza even when official ceasefires are declared.
Hamas, whose gunmen are dug in for battle in Gaza's battered districts, deemed such Israeli moves potential provocations.
'We informed the mediators who participated in arranging the humanitarian ceasefire of our agreement to cease fire against Zionist cities and settlements and that we cannot operationally cease fire against troops inside the Gaza Strip that conduct operations and move continuously,' the Qassam Brigades said.
'These enemy forces could easily come in contact with our deployed ambushes, which will lead to a clash.'
The group said it had launched long-range rockets early today towards the Israeli cities of Haifa and Tel Aviv.
There was no word in Israel of Haifa being struck, but the military said its Iron Dome interceptor had shot down rockets over Tel Aviv and the southern city of Beersheba. No one was hurt.
The current conflict, among the most lethal in recent decades, began after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and found dead in the West Bank. Israel accused Hamas of the kidnapping, which Hamas denied.
Israel launched a Gaza air and naval offensive on July 8 following a surge of cross-border rocket salvoes which later escalated into ground operations involving heavy tanks.
Israeli officials have long voiced concern that Palestinian guerrillas would try to capture a soldier or an Israeli civilian.
In 2011, Israel released more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier snatched by Hamas five years earlier.
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