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(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke on the death of Assaf Ramon on Monday morning, having returned from Egypt the previous evening. Ramon died Sunday afternoon when his Israel Air Force F-16 crashed in the South Hebron Hills, and will be buried on Monday at 4 p.m. at the military cemetery in Nahalal next to his father, Ilan Ramon, who died in the Columbia space shuttle disaster six years ago.
"There's something in the story of the Ramon family that symbolizes Jewish glory and the tragedy of this nation," the prime minister told Army Radio. "The Ramon family is a symbol, and an example for the generations, that represents the Israeli identity."
"I received the news [of the crash] when I was on the way to Egypt," Netanyahu said, adding that he had told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak the sad news upon his arrival at the presidential palace in Cairo. "Mubarak said, 'I know how hard it is to lose a son, or a grandson,'" noted the prime minister.
The Egyptian president's own grandson died suddenly in May.
The prime minister had words of praise for both Assaf and his father, and said that he had called the IAF cadet's mother, Rona Ramon, immediately upon his return to Israel later on Sunday. He recalled attending Ramon's pilot graduation course in June this year, and said about his death, "It's very emotional."
Also on Monday, Gadi Ramon, brother of Ilan Ramon and Assaf's uncle, said that all along the family had fears over the possibility his nephew would be killed while serving in the IAF.
"We were familiar with the dangers involved in flying due to Ilan; anyone with knowledge in this field know it's a dangerous business," he told Army Radio.
"I had this fear with me ever since he began the pilots course. I discussed these fears with Rona, but this is what he wanted and he went for it, with us backing his decision," he said.
Ramon went on to describe the situation at the family home. "Everyone here is in terrible shock. It's difficult to grasp the dimensions of this disaster, we still don't understand what happened," he said.
Gadi Ramon said that like Assaf's mother, he found out about his nephew's death from the media. "I heard about it when friend called me after the rumor spread. The moment I heard, I got into my car and drove to Ramat Hen," Assaf's uncle told the radio station. "We'll need many days to digest this news," he concluded.
Earlier, when asked about the dilemma faced by bereaved parents who have to sign consent forms for their children to join combat units, Netanyahu said, "I have brought up this issue with many ministersâ€¦ I spoke with the defense minister this morningâ€¦ it's a hard decision." However, he went on to say that he, his older brother Yoni, who was killed as the commander of Operation Entebbe in 1976, and his younger brother Ido, had all served in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit.
"My parents didn't know [in which unit] we served, and about the risks we tookâ€¦ but no one stopped us," he said.
The prime minister called both Assaf and his father "Israeli heroes," but lamented, "Now, for Rona, and for Iftach and Tal and Noaâ€¦ that won't help," referring to the pilot's mother and three siblings.
Netanyahu was set to attend the pilot's funeral later in the day.