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(photo credit: AP [file])
Moving through the tight alleyways of Saja'iya on Monday night, Golani Brigade commander Col. Avi Peled and his men came under a rain of Hamas mortar fire.
Together with Lt.-Col. Oren Cohen, commander of the brigade's 13th "Gideon" Battalion, the force ducked into an empty home, apparently still under construction.
The force had been inside the Strip since Saturday night, fighting terrorists on the northeastern outskirts of Gaza City's Saja'iya neighborhood.
Peled and Cohen led several dozen soldiers into the house and climbed to the third floor, where they began setting up the brigade's forward tactical command post to prepare for the night ahead. Initial probes indicate that the force failed to report that it had moved into the structure, which was thought to be empty
A tank several hundred meters away noticed the suspicious movement in the building and opened fire, hitting it with two shells. The soldiers didn't have much of a chance.
Three men were killed: Cpl. Yousef Moadi, 19, who lived recently in Haifa, but was originally from the Druse village of Yirka; Maj. Dagan Wartman, 32, from Ma'aleh Michmash in the Binyamin region; and St.-Sgt. Nitai Stern, 21, from Jerusalem. Peled and Cohen were moderately wounded. Another 15 soldiers were also wounded, mostly lightly.
Initially thinking the blast was caused by a Hamas missile attack, the IDF responded strongly.
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Zvika Fogel, a former deputy OC Southern Command and in charge of artillery fire for Operation Cast Lead, ordered cannons to pound open fields near the building to deter Hamas terrorists from reaching the area.
Little did Fogel know that he would soon be overseeing the evacuation of his own son, among those wounded by the tank.
The evacuation took some time and Peled, despite his injury, refused to leave the battlefield until all of his wounded comrades were evacuated to hospitals in Israel.
"There was a difficult incident Monday night that can happen when fighting in urban and densely-populated areas," Peled recalled Tuesday night in a briefing with reporters before heading back into the Strip. "One of the tanks probably hit the home we were in. It was a building where a few of us officers had gathered to plan the fighting for the rest of the night."
Cohen, who lost a finger and fractured a shoulder, also appeared in public on Tuesday, at the funeral of one of his soldiers.
"I don't plan to turn myself into a hero for what I did," the scar-faced Peled said. "I am the commander of the brigade, and I did what I am supposed to do. We continued to command our troops and to fight. We have capabilities and we will keep on doing what we are supposed to do."
Later in the night another officer was killed by friendly fire, although this time near Atatra. The officer was identified as Capt. Yehonatan Netanel, 27, from Kedumim in Samaria, a deputy company commander with the Paratrooper Brigade's 202nd "Viper" Battalion. There, too, a tank spotted suspicious movements in a building and opened fire. Another two soldiers were wounded.
The IDF immediately began investigating the two incidents, which were likely caused by lack of communication and a failure to notify other forces in the area that the soldiers had moved into the homes.
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