IDF Confirms No Soldier Kidnapped After Sweeping Roadblocks Tie Up Center of Country

Acting on an uncorroborated report about a soldier's abduction near Lod, security forces yesterday mounted a sweeping roadblock effort in the greater Tel Aviv region, where car-by-car inspections resulted in massive traffic disruptions.

After initiating an urgent internal check, the Israel Defense Forces said all its troops were accounted for.

A previously unknown Palestinian group calling itself the Al-Quds Army claimed that it had kidnapped an Israeli soldier, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported. However, the IDF said that other than the single report, it had no indication that any of its troops had been abducted yesterday.

The IDF Spokespersons' Unit issued a statement saying that a female soldier had filed a report yesterday afternoon that she had seen two civilians forcibly pushing a soldier into a vehicle.

In light of her report, the Israel Police, the IDF and the Shin Bet security service put up roadblocks along all of Gush Dan to inspect every passing car. Two helicopters were scrambled as part of the clampdown.

A Palestinian security official said the Al-Quds Army, while fairly obscure, was believed to have links to Hezbollah.

"A group of our resistance fighters captured an Israeli soldier near Ben-Gurion Airport and withdrew along with the soldier peacefully ... later we will give details about the captured soldier," Ma'an quoted a statement issued by the group.

A source in the defense establishment said that reports about suspected abductions, such as the one made by the female soldier, are received and investigated every few weeks and are usually dismissed.

"Soldiers and civilians usually misinterpret what they see and then report they had seen an abduction," the source said.

Fej Shmuelevitch, an operator of a mobile phone application for information on traffic delays, told Haaretz that unusual congestion was recorded near Ben-Gurion International Airport, on Route 4, and on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway as well as areas in Petah Tikva. Some passengers reported being stuck in traffic for four to five hours along the 60 kilometers between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

To educate soldiers about the threat of abduction by Palestinian and other Arab militant groups, the Israel Defense Forces holds regular lectures for most combat and non-combat troops about how to react in case of an attempt. The IDF has also imposed and is enforcing a ban on hitch-hiking for that reason. Soldiers are instructed to resist abduction "at all cost."

Abductions of soldiers are rare and each has proved traumatic. In June 2006, Hamas guerrillas from Gaza seized Gilad Shalit, a soldier on patrol near the border. His picture is plastered across the country, people speak often of the urgency to bring him home, and the army has raised his rank from corporal to sergeant. Negotiations for his release, involving the possible freeing of hundreds of Hamas prisoners in exchange, seem to be reaching a new intensity after several breakdowns.

It was shortly after Sgt. Shalit's capture that Hezbollah carried out a cross-border raid from Lebanon to kill and seize soldiers. Threats between the two groups have intensified recently.

In 1994, Sgt. Nachshon Wachsman was kidnapped by Hamas in central Israel. He was killed in a rescue operation.

The IDF also plans to begin teaching martial arts for self-defense to its non-combat soldiers, widely referred to as "jobniks."

The Combat Fitness Department decided to open the course after it identified a pattern of repeated gun snatching attacks in central Israel. One conclusion was that soldiers in non-combat units are especially vulnerable to the danger. The training will specialize in fending off threats that are more likely to face soldiers serving in rear units, including abductions.