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Israeli military: No soldiers reported missing

Aug. 13, 2009 5:45 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 15, 2009 10:00 A.M.)
Bethlehem – Ma'an – Israeli authorities investigating reports a soldier was captured on Thursday evening concluded that no one was unaccounted for, according to news reports published just after midnight on Friday.

It was Israel's first definitive response to two separate but seemingly related claims made about the abduction of a soldier the same day, which led to a 12-hour manhunt throughout the country and the West Bank on Thursday.

Earlier on Thursday, a previously unknown group claimed responsibility for seizing a soldier near the country's airport in Lod, while separately the military said it received word from within its own ranks that a soldier was seen being shoved into a car and driven away. Neither report could be immediately verified.

Approached over the emailed statement from the group that alleged it had captured a soldier, an Israeli military spokesperson offered, "The matter is being investigated," but did not return a call seeking further comment.

Hours after Ma'an published the spokesperson's confirmation, as well as the group's abduction claim, which was signed by the previously unknown "Al-Quds Army," Israel's Channel 10 broke the story that the military believed a female soldier had witnessed the capture of a male soldier near Tel Aviv.

Her allegations matched the statement earlier received by Ma'an, which read, "A group of our resistance fighters captured a Zionist soldier near Ben Gurion Airport and withdrew along with the soldier without incident."

"We will provide details about the captured soldier later," the statement said.

However Ma'an could not independently verify either party's claims, nor had the group issued its promised follow-up statement by late Thursday night, increasing skepticism that grew as Israel began winding down its search, removing roadblocks and barriers near the Green Line.

Casting further doubt on the so-called Al-Quds Army's claims, as well as those made by the Israeli soldier, was that despite a roll call the military said it had not found that any soldiers were missing, which followed a massive operation aimed at saving the suspected detainee.

Israeli forces set up checkpoints on roads leading into major cities, and heavy security points were imposed on the road linking Tel Aviv to the city of Modi'in, bringing traffic of all kinds throughout the country to a standstill. Soldiers also posted at each entrance into the West Bank, where cars were searched one at a time.

Several Israeli news sites initially reported the security measures, but said they were the result of a "specific security warning," the nature of which remained undisclosed throughout much of the evening. Most Israeli newspapers did not consistently report the abduction event within the first few hours it was suspected, likely due to the country's tight military censorship policies.

But other agencies explicitly reported the suspected abduction, including Agence France-Presse and China's state broadcaster Xinhua. A website called Israel Today filed a report, as well. The English-language Jerusalem Post published a story as early as 3pm, titled, "Police suspect soldier kidnapped near Ben Gurion Airport," but it was quickly removed.

The apparent publication ban appeared to have been lifted by about 8pm Thursday night.

Shortly thereafter, The Hebrew-language Yedioth Ahronoth reported that police had known about the abduction since Thursday afternoon. The paper said forces suspected a soldier was forced into a car at an intersection near an air force base close to the airport.

Meanwhile, Israel's military issued its own statement that a report had been filed by a witness to the capture, the female soldier quoted earlier in the evening. By late Thursday night, the country's military and Shin Bet intelligence agency were looking into the claims, according to the statement.
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