GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Hamas military on Saturday distanced itself from the disappearance of a soldier Israel says is suspected to have been captured by Hamas fighters in Gaza.
The soldier's disappearance early Friday triggered a large-scale search, accompanied by heavy Israeli fire, near Gaza's southern town of Rafah.
President Barack Obama and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon called for his immediate release.
The Israeli military has said it believes the soldier was grabbed in a Hamas ambush about an hour after an internationally brokered cease-fire took effect at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) Friday.
However, the Hamas military wing later said in a statement on its website that it is "not aware until this moment of a missing soldier or his whereabouts or the circumstances of his disappearance."
The group said it believes the soldier might have been killed in a clash with Hamas fighters about an hour before the start of the cease-fire.
Hamas said it has lost contact with those fighters and that "we believe all members of this group have died in an (Israeli) strike, including the Zionist soldier the enemy says disappeared."
The Israeli military declined comment on the statement.