JERUSALEM (AFP) - The Israeli army on Sunday confirmed the death of missing soldier Lieutenant Hadar Goldin by checking the DNA of parts of his body that were found in a tunnel.
Lt Goldin went missing in action on Friday following a deadly incident in southern Gaza on Friday morning in which two other soldiers were killed, with Israel saying it suspected he had been snatched by Palestinian militants.
The incident sparked a major bombardment of the southern city of Rafah and the surrounding area as troops sought to track him down in a display of firepower which killed 114 people in just 24 hours.
But early on Sunday, the army announced that Lt Goldin had been killed in action, with army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner telling AFP he had been identified by his DNA. "What we know for sure was that one suicide bomber and at least three or four other gunmen came out of a tunnel. One blew himself up, killing two on the spot, and the others were shooting - they grabbed Hadar and snatched him down into the tunnel," he said. "We don't know if he was alive and wounded, or dead at this time. Only in the aftermath, with the forensic investigation, were we able to conclude that he was killed."
The remains of Lt Goldin's body were discovered inside the tunnel east of Rafah where the confrontation took place, Lt-Col Lerner said.
"He was identified by his DNA," he told AFP, saying what they found proved he was dead, not being held by a militant group.
"There was enough to determine that he had been killed and to carry out a burial."
Shortly after the incident took place on August 1, the army issued a statement saying initial indications suggested he had been "abducted by terrorists" in a development which drew sharp condemnation from the US and the UN, which demanded his immediate release.
In response, Hamas' armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, acknowledged its militants had staged an ambush in the area early on Friday in which Israeli soldiers were killed.
But they denied holding Lt Goldin.
"We have lost contact with the mujahedeen unit that was in that ambush, and we think that all the fighters in this unit were killed by Zionist shelling along with the soldier, who the enemy says is missing," it said.
"Until now, we at al-Qassam have no knowledge of the missing soldier, or his whereabouts or the circumstances of his disappearance."
The movement later accused Israel of fabricating the abduction claim in order to sabotage a 72-hour truce bid, which had just got under way when the incident happened, and to lay waste to Rafah.
Asked why it had taken so long to declare the soldier dead and not captured, Lt-Col Lerner said: "The DNA test took time."
Israel considers the capture of its soldiers to be a casus belli. It launched a 34-day war on Lebanon's Hezbollah in 2006 after it seized two soldiers.
Lt Goldin's death brings the death toll among Israeli soldiers to 64 since the start of hostilities on July 8, the heaviest since the 2006 war against Hezbollah.
More than 1,800 Palestinians have been killed, with United Nations figures indicating most were civilians.
Lt Goldin was buried on Sunday afternoon after a funeral in his home town of Kfar Saba near Tel Aviv.