Hamas militants have taken Israeli soldiers and civilians as hostages, the Israeli military said on Saturday.
The comments from Israel’s top military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, confirmed some of Israelis’ worst fears since the assault began. Residents of Israeli border towns had told broadcasters that gunmen were moving door to door, looking for civilians and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another small militant faction in Gaza, had issued statements claiming to have Israeli captives.
In addition to Admiral Hagari’s remarks, video verified by The Times appears to show several Israelis being taken hostage by Hamas militants in the Be’eri kibbutz, just under three miles southeast from the border with Gaza in southern Israel. In the footage, at least five people with their hands behind their backs are being led on a road by armed men on foot and on motorcycles.
Where the group ended up is unclear, but reports from Israeli news outlets suggested that up to 50 hostages were being held in a dining hall in Be’eri. Those details have not been confirmed by The Times, although Admiral Hagari did say Be’eri was one of two locations inside Israel with ongoing hostage situations.
Video posted to the messaging app Telegram earlier Saturday and verified by The Times showed armed militants crouching and taking up positions outside buildings in Be’eri. Some people have also posted appeals on social media asking for help locating friends and relatives from Be’eri and the surrounding areas who have not been heard from since Saturday morning local time.
Be’eri is one of several towns in the area in which gunfire has been reported since Saturday’s incursion began, and Admiral Hagari said fighting was still underway there as of early evening.
At the same time, a senior U.N. official and a diplomat familiar with the matter said the United Nations had confirmed the presence of Israeli civilian and military hostages inside the Gaza Strip.
The issue of Israelis in captivity is a deeply emotional and explosive one in Israel, with the government having paid a high price in the past for the return of its citizens or of the remains of soldiers in lopsided prisoner exchange deals.
In 2006, Gaza militants seized an Israeli hostage — the soldier Gilad Shalit — from the Israeli side of the border fence. Hamas, the Islamic militant group, held Mr. Shalit for five years until he was exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli prisons, many of them convicted of deadly terrorist attacks against Israelis. The group has also been holding the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 war. Two Israeli citizens who had crossed by foot into Gaza are presumed to be alive.
Israel’s monthlong war against Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militant organization, in the summer of 2006 also began with a cross-border raid by Hezbollah and the abduction of two Israeli soldiers. The remains of the two soldiers were returned to Israel in 2008 as part of a prisoner exchange. Israel handed over five Lebanese prisoners, including Samir Kuntar, who had been held for nearly three decades after being convicted in connection with a deadly and notorious attack, in exchange for the soldiers’ bodies.
Isabel Kershner contributed reporting.