Israeli soldier briefly left in Gaza

Israel Materials 30 July 2007 11:56 (UTC +04:00)

( AP ) - An Israeli soldier was briefly left behind by his unit in the Gaza Strip last week after troops didn't notice he had fallen asleep, the army said. The soldier was located after several hours and returned to Israel safely.

The unit's troops only noticed the soldier's absence when they returned to Israel Thursday night, at which point they re-entered Gaza to search for him, the army said in a statement. The soldier fired a flare and tracers into the air.

Matan Vilnai, Israel's deputy defense minister, told Israel Radio on Monday that the unit's commander was responsible for the mishap, but said similar incidents had happened "dozens of times."

"People are tired and not thinking straight after long hours or long days," Vilnai said. "Of course something like this is unacceptable, but it's understandable that it happens."

An Israeli newspaper reported Monday that the soldier feared he would share the fate of Gilad Shalit, a corporal held captive by Hamas militants for the past year.

"I understood I was alone inside Gaza. I thought about Gilad Shalit and my mother sitting at home," the soldier told his comrades, according to a report in the daily Yediot Ahronot, which did not publish the soldier's name.

Shalit, an Israeli tank crewman, was captured in a cross-border raid by Hamas militants in June, 2006, and has been held since then in Gaza as negotiations for a prisoner swap have stalled.

Israeli forces regularly carry out operations inside Gaza, combating Palestinian militants firing rockets at Israeli towns.