(photo credit: AP )
As the IDF wrapped up its southern Gaza operation in which a Golani Brigade soldier was killed during a firefight with Palestinian gunmen, Public Security Minister Avi Dichter hinted Wednesday at the need for Israel to embark on a large-scale military campaign in the Gaza Strip.
"We can either send the army into the Palestinian territories or face suicide belts in Tel Aviv," Army Radio quoted Dichter as saying.
St.-Sgt. Ben Kubani, 20, from Hadera, was killed near Khan Yunis in southern Gaza during an IDF operation aimed at reducing the threat to Israelis living on the Gaza periphery.
The army penetrated about two kilometers into the southern Gaza Strip early Wednesday morning east of Khan Yunis to disrupt the terrorist infrastructure. The force, mostly comprised of Battalion 51, with support from tank and engineering units, came under attack several times from Hamas gunmen wielding antitank rockets, RPGs and small arms. Kubani was killed during one of the firefights, the army said. There were reports that he had been killed by a sniper.
Kubani was treated at the scene and evacuated to Beersheba's Soroka Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Kubani was the only casualty among the soldiers.
Kubani will be laid to rest at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday in the Hadera military cemetery.
Kubani, a member of of the Golani Brigade's Battalion 51, was survived by his parents, Margalit and Rahamim, a sister, Sarit, 27, and a younger brother, Ido, 17.
"The goal of the operation is to push back the threat to the communities surrounding Gaza," a defense source told The Jerusalem Post. "It is a complex operation that goes on nearly every day. There was nothing out of the ordinary about it, and it will continue."
Eyal Englister, a friend from Hadera, described Kubani's love for the Golani infantry.
"He only wanted to serve in Golani, he wasn't willing to hear about any other unit. But because the army didn't let him get to the unit he wanted, he started to make trouble, went to jail and was discharged from the army," the friend told the Ynet news site. "However, he persevered and two months after he was discharged, he reenlisted - this time in Golani."
Englister also said Kubani was devoted to his family and that as soon as he would arrive home on leave, sometimes still wearing his uniform, he would go to work at the family store.
Describing the goal of such operations, the defense source said: "It is the army's job to protect the citizens. We accept that and do all we can to minimize casualties, but this task is our responsibility."
At least one gunman was killed and several others were wounded during the operation, which concluded late Wednesday afternoon.
A gunman was hit by tank fire during the raid, Dr. Moaiya Hassanain of Gaza's Health Ministry said. Hamas confirmed that one of its fighters had been killed. Three other Palestinians were wounded, Hassanain said.
Later in the afternoon, an IDF helicopter hit a group of terrorists located near the IDF force. Palestinians said four people were wounded in the air strike.
The defense source told the Post that approximately 200 terrorists had been killed since the beginning of the year in these types of actions.
The purpose of these operations, according to the source, was to thwart infiltration attempts, push terrorist squads away from the border to prevent rockets and mortar shells from hitting Israel, and preempt terrorist attacks.
The IDF also gathers intelligence and arrests suspects during the raids.
The almost daily operations may be a prelude to a larger Gaza incursion that has remained in the planning stages for months. However, it is unlikely a large-scale incursion will take place before the Annapolis meeting between Israel, the Palestinians and other interested actors scheduled for November or December.
AP and jpost.com staff contributed to this report.