GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- The Israeli military on Friday said that an Israeli soldier had been captured earlier in the day, confirming hours of speculation amid intense clashes and shelling near Rafah.
An Israeli military spokeswoman told Ma'an that she could confirm a "suspected abduction" of an Israeli soldier in the area, while a Hamas political leader took responsibility for attacking the soldiers but not for capturing any.
The military said in a statement that at around 9:30 a.m., "an attack was executed against (Israeli) forces operating to decommission a tunnel."
"Initial indication suggests that an (Israeli) soldier has been abducted by terrorists during the incident."
The military named the captured soldier as Hadar Goldin, 23. It said that two other soldiers were killed in the attack.
Hamas confirmed that their forces had carried out the attack, but denied any connection to the capture itself and strongly contested the chronology of events put forward by Israel.
Senior Hamas leader Osama Hamdan said Friday that Israel is "claiming" that a soldier is missing to "cover up its crimes."
Hamdan said in a statement to France 24 channel that "Israel claims that a soldier was captured to hide their crimes and to divert the public opinion to speak of the captured soldier instead."
"We do not have any information about a captured soldier," he added, highlighting that no soldier was captured by any Palestinian faction.
His statements of denial come after an earlier al-Qassam statement which claimed responsibility for an operation targeting Israeli soldiers.
The Hamas-affiliated al-Qassam Brigades said earlier that the attack had occurred before the ceasefire began, explaining: "There had not been any Israeli soldiers in eastern Rafah for the past 20 days. But as soon as the ceasefire was announced, Israeli movement in the area began at around 2:00 a.m. (They moved) 2.5 kilometers into eastern Rafah."
"In response to that, our fighters clashed with Israeli soldiers in Rafah at 7:00 a.m., killing and injuring many."
"Israel is committing crimes against our people," the statement continued. "The latest are the random shelling and airstrikes at people in eastern Rafah, violating the ceasefire, and disregarding the international efforts put into this deal," al-Qassam said in a statement.
"It is the occupation which violated the ceasefire. The Palestinian resistance acted based on ... the right to self defense (and) to stop the massacres of our people," spokesman Fawzi Barhum said in a statement.
The operation reportedly began after a Palestinian blew himself up near an Israeli military post east of Rafah, causing a large number of soldiers to move to the area to defend the post.
Following the explosion, fighters emerged from tunnels nearby and captured an Israeli soldier.
In response to the attack, Israeli forces launched a massive artillery attack on eastern Rafah, with at least 35 dead and more than 200 injured so far.
The Israeli army, security services, and the Shin Bet intelligence agency were currently said to be searching for the captured soldier, as intense shelling continued to rain down on Rafah.
The capture is the second such incident since Israel launched its massive assault on the Gaza Strip 24 days ago. On July 20, Hamas militants said that they had captured Oron Shaul.
Although the Israeli military initially denied the reports, they later confirmed that Oron Shaul had been killed but his body had not been recovered, suggesting that Hamas had the soldier's body.
In the past, Israel has agreed to release Palestinian prisoners kept in Israeli jails in exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldiers, and Hamas has called for soldiers to be captured with this aim.
Currently, more than 6,000 Palestinians are being held in Israeli jails, hundreds of which are being held under administrative detention without charge or trial for indefinite periods of time.
The last time Hamas captured an Israeli soldier was Gilad Shalit in 2006. He detained for six years in the Gaza Strip following the capture, which occurred at the Israel-Gaza Strip border.
Shalit was eventually released as part of a deal in 2011 in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jail.
In June and July, Israel re-arrested dozens of those former prisoners in violation of the deal as part of Operation Brother's Keeper, which targeted Hamas members across the West Bank.
Correction: An earlier version of the story said the al-Qassam Brigades took responsibility for the kidnapping. In fact, an earlier al-Qassam Brigades statement said the group claimed responsibility for the "operation" against Israeli soldiers but did not specifically take responsibility for the capture of a soldier as initially reported.