An Israeli soldier is missing in the Gaza Strip and presumed dead, local media quoted the Israeli military as saying, as Israeli airstrikes hit targets in the enclave and diplomatic efforts intensified to end more than two weeks of fighting.
Israel's Channel 10 News on Tuesday said the military believed the soldier, identified as Oron Shaul, was killed along with six other troops in an attack on an armoured vehicle on Sunday. However, the army has only identified six bodies.
Military sources believe that Oron Shaul was killed in the blast that tore apart his armoured personnel carrier and killed six other members of his unit. At most,
they believe, Hamas has part of his body, his uniform or his dog tags.
But even dead soldiers have been a powerful bargaining chip for both Hamas and Hezbollah in the past. The army has long instructed soldiers to do everything possible to avoid capture.
Gilad Shalit was grabbed by Hamas in 2006 and held in Gaza for more than five years before his release in a deal for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
The capture of two other soldiers in 2006, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, helped spark a month-long Israeli war with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Their bodies were returned two years later, in exchange for five living members of the group and the remains of nearly 200 others.
The Shalit deal was popular at the time: In a country with mandatory conscription for most of its Jewish citizens, soldiers become an intensely personal issue.
A growing cadre of right-wing politicians, however, has called for an end to future prisoner swaps. Hamas has already insisted on the release of dozens of prisoners from the Shalit deal, re-arrested this summer, as a condition for a cease-fire. - By Gregg Carlstrom
Military sources believe that Hamas has his dog tags or uniform.
"If a soldier has been captured, this will deal a blow to the Israeli army," Al Jazeera's Kim Vinnell, reporting from West Jerusalem, said.
"It would give Palestinian fighters a significant leverage in the conflict," she said.
The latest development came two days after Hamas announced it had captured a soldier during clashes, but did not say whether he was dead or alive.
Abu Ubaida, the spokesman of the Hamas's armed wing, said the soldier was seized in heavy fighting on the Gaza border on Sunday.
He displayed a photo ID and army serial number of the man, but showed no image of him in their hands.
An Israeli military statement on Tuesday, relayed by the Reuters news agency, said the army had completed the identification of six of the soldiers killed and that "efforts to identify the seventh soldier are ongoing and have yet to be determined".
The deadliest conflict in five years between Israel and the Palestinians has killed more than 600 Palestinians, many of them civilians, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. At least 29 Israelis, 27 of them soldiers, have died in the fighting.
On Tuesday, Israeli aircraft and tanks hit more than 150 targets in Gaza, including five mosques, a football stadium and the home of the late leader of Hamas' military wing, according to Palestinian police.
At least seven Palestinians were reported killed in the new round of air strikes early on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, gunshots were fired on Tuesday into Al Jazeera’s bureau in Gaza City. Al Jazeera's Stephanie Dekker said two bullets hit the building. No casualties were reported.
The latest violence came as UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State John Kerry met in Cairo to launch the highest-level push yet to end the violence.
Kerry said he was hoping to get international support for Washington's push for a ceasefire, while acknowledging that the differences between Israel and Hamas run deep and must be addressed in any long-term solution.
"We will work to see if there is some way to not only arrive at a ceasefire of some kind but to get to a discussion about the underlying issues," Kerry said at the start of the meeting with the UN chief.
Kerry pledged $47 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza.
UN chief Ban, meanwhile, appealed for the violence to "stop now" as it emerged that most of the dead were civilians.
Kerry, Ban, and Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi in Cairo urged Hamas to accept an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire.
Conditions for ceasefire
Hamas insisted on a lifting of Israel's siege of Gaza and the release of prisoners in order to agree to any truce accord.
"The conditions for a ceasefire are... a full lifting of the blockade and then the release of those recently detained in the West Bank," its leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, said on television.
"We cannot go backwards, to a slow death," he said, referring to the Israeli blockade in force since 2006.
Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas' political bureau, held talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Doha, the Qatari capital, on Monday. The two pledged to work together for a ceasefire and to lift the blockade on Gaza.
Since the Israeli operation began on July 8, huge numbers of Palestinians have fled their homes, with the UN saying more than 100,000 people have sought shelter in 69 schools run by its Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA.