JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli military said on Saturday a top militant killed in a predawn raid was “directly and physically involved” in the 2006 capture of Gilad Shalit, a soldier Israel believes is still being held in the Gaza Strip.
Tayser Abu Snima, who Palestinian medics said was killed in an air strike on a vehicle along the Gaza-Egyptian border, was a key figure in the Hamas Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli statement called Abu Snima a senior Hamas operative in Gaza and said he was “directly and physically involved in the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit,” a soldier who disappeared in a June 2006 cross-border raid.
Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, said Snima’s killing “will not affect our work” and dismissed Israel’s claims.
He said Israel “does not have the information about Shalit’s capture to be able to say who among our leaders had a role in its execution.”
Ubaida also accused Israel of “looking for an achievement as a cover for their crimes,” referring to Israel’s punishing strikes in Gaza in the past three days since Hamas rocketed an Israeli school bus, badly wounding an Israeli teen.
Israel has killed 19 Palestinian militants and civilians in these strikes since Thursday’s attack on the bus.
Israeli efforts to secure Shalit’s release have been a political hot potato for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and it was not clear whether these would be impacted by Snima’s slaying.
Netanyahu faces growing public calls to secure the soldier’s release, while at the same time he is also under pressure to avoid meeting Hamas’s demands to swap Shalit for imprisoned Palestinian militants charged with masterminding lethal bombings inside Israel over the past decade.
Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Sophie Hares