Why does Hamas deny abducting an Israeli soldier?

Israel and Hamas are disputing responsibility for how a three-day cease-fire broke down in just the first few hours, while Hamas is also denying that it captured a missing Israeli soldier. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner joins Judy Woodruff to explore what might be happening behind the scenes and what comes next if Israel can’t find the missing soldier.

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    And Margaret joins me now.

    So, Margaret, there appear to be disputes about why the cease-fire broke down.

    What's at issue here?


    Well, there are two different issues.

    One, as you could hear in the tape, there are issues about who started it. And you heard the Israeli version, that they — their soldiers were operating within their line of control and were ambushed in a way that was described. And you have heard Hamas say, no, the Israelis started it, they have made up this story as a pretext to start offensive actions, and that they had moved up their line of control during the period between however late last night the deal was struck and 8:00 a.m.

    The Israelis say that might be true, they're still looking into that, but it's irrelevant, that both sides used that interim to take their final licks. The big dispute is about whether this — there was a soldier captured and, if so, did Hamas do it?


    Why wouldn't Hamas take responsibility for this, which is what they have done in the past?


    That's the huge mystery. In the past, they always have crowed about such wins.

    And, basically, Judy, there are so many different theories out there and nobody really knows. One is that Hamas didn't actually order it, but it was a dissident faction that didn't agree with the cease-fire. And one U.N. official said to me, there are factions within factions. It's not even just the military vs. political wing.

    The other very interesting theory is that, if this happened in the heat of battle — and it sounds as if it really did — and in the confusion of battle, if this soldier was seized and then secreted away, say, in a basement somewhere in this area, that it is possible the Hamas leadership doesn't actually know, because communications have almost totally broken down within Gaza. There's almost no electricity, and people can't charge cell phones and so on.

    And so if you notice what the Palestinian spokesman, the Hamas spokesmen keep saying is, we can't confirm that we have one yet.


    So, what happens, though? If the Israelis can't find this soldier, what's next?


    Well, right now, they are totally focused on finding the soldier, and they kicked in what they call Operation Hannibal, which is what they always plan to do. You seal off the entire area and they're going house to house.

    And, of course, they're still clearing tunnels and they're still going after rockets. They will not speculate about what they will do next. There are a lot of — like, U.N. and U.S. officials are afraid that if they don't find this soldier, that Bibi Netanyahu will then be propelled or pressured politically to do — to announce a big expansion.

    But I'm told by Israelis even yesterday they were very stunned by U.S. condemnation of their attack on this school that was a U.N. shelter and they're going to think twice before expanding operations further.


    And just in a second, if — what happened today cannot bode well for resolving this.


    No. No.

    PLO says they will continue — they will send a delegation. The Egyptians are saying, please send a delegation. The Israeli official told me absolutely not. Right now, our focus is on military action, and we're going into the Sabbath.

    And, so, I think that if this soldier is not found dead or alive, if he is not found, that the prospects are for just more carnage.


    Margaret Warner, we thank you.

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