An IDF lieutenant colonel was killed and another officer was moderately wounded after a firefight erupted with Palestinian terrorists during a special operation in the southern Gazan city of Khan Yunis on Sunday night.
The officer was identified as Lt.-Col. M from northern Israel and was a father of young children.
He was buried Monday evening at a funeral which was closed to the public.
President Reuven Rivlin, who attended the funeral and met with Lt.-Col. M’s family, offered his condolences.
“I came to thank and to salute a hero, on behalf of the entire State of Israel. The very best of our boys, whose memory will be forever engraved in our hearts,” he said, adding that “the grief of the whole people, the whole people of Israel. M was one of the bravest and most daring soldiers and commanders of the State of Israel and he fell defending the citizens of Israel, the children of Israel. He lived by the values he was brought up on: bravery, self-sacrifice, daring and determination, and that is how he died.”
Members of Lt.-Col. M.’s community said during the funeral that he “was an officer of the highest quality who was raised in the glory of the State of Israel. He volunteered in organizations and raised his children on values of love for the homeland, charity and volunteerism,” Channel 2 reported.
“Not everyone knew what he was doing but I knew,” said his son. “He began to think about the future, about progress in the security and civilian sectors. Alternatively, he also considered progress in the military sector.”
On Monday morning, the military explained that the purpose of the special forces operation was not to kill or capture terrorists. The troops were exposed while they “carried out a lengthy operation.”
“The soldiers acted heroically, hit those who threatened them and extracted themselves to Israeli territory,” IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis said, adding that Lt.-Col. M’s “heroic actions will not be published in the media but he deserves our salute. His actions led to Israel having superiority over its enemies.”
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot sent his condolences to the family, saying that he salutes the troops who took part in the operation. “A special force unit of the IDF operated tonight in an operation of high importance to Israel’s security. The unit and Israel Air Force troops fought courageously and bravely,” he said. “I salute the forces. The IDF owes Lt.-Col. M. more than what can be told. I embrace his family and wish for the recovery of the wounded IDF officer.”
On Monday, Eisenkot, the head of the Shin Bet security service and other senior officials in the defense establishment held situational assessments. Early Monday morning, defense officials decided to increase troops in the Southern Command as well as deploy additional Iron Dome batteries.
The army “is prepared to use large amounts of force if necessary,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said.
Late Sunday night, at least seven Palestinians were killed, including Khan Yunis commander Sheikh Nur Barakeh, during clashes between terrorists and IDF soldiers in the Gaza Strip.
Dispelling rumors, the IDF said that none of its troops were kidnapped by Hamas. “Contrary to reports, none of our soldiers were abducted during the operational activity that took place in Gaza,” the Israeli army said in a statement, confirming that all troops returned safely to Israeli territory.
According to local reports, a firefight broke out between Palestinian terrorists and the elite IDF force in Khan Yunis, when troops became exposed to the enemy after firing from a passing car at a senior commander in Hamas’ military wing, the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades.
A statement released by the Brigades said that a “special force of the Zionist enemy infiltrated this evening in a civilian car three kilometers east of Khan Yunis. The force assassinated the commander of our forces. The withdrawal of the enemy led to the martyrdom of a number of people.”
Israeli aircraft which helped extract troops were said to have fired some 20 missiles towards the area, killing at least five terrorists.
Residents in the Israeli communities surrounding the southern Gaza Strip were warned to stay close to shelters following the incident, with several rounds of incoming-rocket sirens activated in the communities.
The IDF confirmed that 17 projectiles were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, with three intercepted by the Iron Dome Missile Defense system. There were no reports of injuries.
Classes were canceled for Monday morning in Gaza border communities following the night’s events. Local farmers were prohibited from working in fields near the security fence. Roads near the fence were also closed to the public, and all gatherings of over 300 people were to be held within closed areas.
The flight paths into and out of Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport were also altered following the events in Gaza.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denounced the IDF operation near Khan Yunis as “cowardly” and praised the “heroic Palestinian resistance” for being alert and ready to confront any “aggression by the Zionist enemy.”
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “no political solution exists for Gaza
, just as there isn’t one with ISIS” and that he is doing everything he can to avoid “unnecessary war.”
“Believe me, we were a step away from exerting maximal force and I think Hamas understood this,” Netanyahu said. The prime minister was in Paris attending the Paris Peace Forum, and added that “currently, what is destabilizing the Strip are internal tensions and we are trying to prevent that.” The prime minister returned to Israel on Monday morning.The Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.
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