IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Natan Fitoussi laid to rest

The incident, near West Bank city of Tulkarm, was the latest in a series of deadly soldier-on-soldier shooting incidents in the Israeli military.

 Funeral of IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Natan Fitoussi (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Funeral of IDF soldier St.-Sgt. Natan Fitoussi
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

St.-Sgt. Natan Fitoussi, who was killed by friendly fire near the West Bank Palestinian city of Tulkarm late Monday night, was laid to rest at the Netanya Military Cemetery on Tuesday evening.

Fitoussi, 20, had lived in Netanya after immigrating to Israel from France. He was serving in the Kfir Brigade as a sergeant when he was killed and promoted to staff sergeant posthumously.

The commander of the Nachshon Battalion, Ran Cohen, eulogized Fitoussi on Tuesday evening, saying "We stand here today shocked and pained by Natan's tragic fall. Shocked and pained by your untimely passing. Together with your family you immigrated to Israel, and chose to enlist in a significant role as a soldier in the Kfir Brigade," according to Ynet.

"You went through difficult training, you were a soldier imbued with motivation, desire and pride who took a significant part in the defense of the State of Israel and its citizens. Natan, my heart breaks from talking about you in the past tense. You were a good and beloved friend, the first to volunteer for any mission," added Cohen.

"There are no words in my mouth that can describe the pain, and there is no comfort in them. We will continue to walk with you forever. I promise that we will do everything in our power to stand by your side to strengthen. Natan, dear warrior, I salute you on your last journey. You will forever be a part of us."

According to IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Ran Kochav, Fitoussi had left his guard post, and when he came back, one of his fellow soldiers did not recognize him and carried out the procedure for engaging suspicious individuals, ultimately shooting him.

 St.-Sgt. Natan Fitoussi who was killed by friendly fire. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT) St.-Sgt. Natan Fitoussi who was killed by friendly fire. (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

A few hours later, Kochav said it was not definitively determined if the procedure was followed and that the incident was still under investigation.

The incident was initially reported as a Palestinian shooting attack carried out from a passing vehicle. The IDF quickly updated that report to say the shooting was a case of friendly fire.

Fitoussi was taken to Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, where he was pronounced dead. IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi is expected to visit the site of the incident as part of the military’s investigation.

"Unfortunately, the fighter died of his wounds in the hospital."

Senior IDF official

“Unfortunately, the fighter died of his wounds in the hospital,” a senior military officer said. “As far as we understand, the soldier was hit by two bullets, and one of them was fatal. At first, they thought it was fired from the Palestinian side, but later we ruled out the suspicion of an attack.”

Fitoussi’s family was notified of his death on Monday night.

The attorney representing the soldier who fired the shots that killed Fitoussi stated on Tuesday afternoon that "This is a heartbreaking tragic event, in which our client's best friend lost his life."

"He wishes through us to send his sincere condolences to the family for their heavy loss. Our client participated all night in the investigations of the unfortunate accident that happened during an operational activity. Now the soldier is giving testimony. All that can be said now while the incident is still under investigation is that the soldier followed orders and instructions."

Initial investigation finds incident happened due to misidentification

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi held an initial investigation of the incident on Tuesday afternoon with a number of IDF commanders.

According to the initial investigation, the incident occurred during an operational activity along the Green Line, during which Fitoussi left the guard post and, upon his return to the post, was identified by another soldier as a suspicious figure. As a result of the misidentification, the soldier fired at Fitoussi.

Immediately after shooting, when the soldier realized that he had misidentified Fitoussi, he reported the incident to his commanders who called medics to the scene. The medics provided initial treatment in the field and after many resuscitation attempts, Fitoussi was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Col. Liron Biton, commander of the 55th Brigade and the command training base Lakhish has been appointed as the head of a team of experts to investigate the incident. The team's conclusions will be presented to the chief of staff.

Military police opened an investigation into the circumstances of the incident, and the findings will be forwarded to the military attorney's office for examination.

"I send my deepest condolences to the family of the late Natan Fitoussi," said Kohavi. "Tonight's incident is serious, difficult and very unfortunate and we will investigate it thoroughly and professionally - protecting our people is an integral part of our operational ability to protect the residents of the State of Israel."

Israeli government officials offer condolences

“I would like to express my deep grief over the death of St.-Sgt. Natan Fitoussi,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz. “My heart is with his dear family. We are all embracing them this morning.”

He added, “The IDF is committed to investigating and learning lessons so that these incidents do not repeat themselves.”

Prime Minister Yair Lapid said on Tuesday morning, “I’m broken-hearted over the death of Kfir soldier St.-Sgt. Natan Fitoussi who was killed last night in Tulkarm. In the name of the Israeli government and all Israel’s citizens, I send condolences to his family and friends and strengthen them in these difficult hours. May his memory be a blessing.”

Aliyah and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano Shata wrote on Twitter, “Our hearts are broken by the death of an IDF soldier Sgt. Natan Fitousi. Shortly before his bar mitzvah, Natan immigrated from France with his parents and two sisters out of great love for his homeland. Natan’s dream was to become a fighter in the IDF. I wish to send heartfelt condolences to his family.”

Two officers were killed in a friendly fire incident earlier this year

In January, two IDF officers were killed in what the military called a “serious” friendly fire accident in the Jordan Valley.

The two officers were identified as 28-year-old Maj. Ofek Aharon and 26-year-old Maj. Itamar Elharar, platoon commanders in the Oz Brigade’s Egoz Unit.

While officers on the base knew of the two patrols, the patrols did not know about each other, and the officer who was alone misidentified the group of other officers as suspects and opened fire.

Following a drill, two teams – uncoordinated and without helmets, vests or radios – voluntarily went out to search for a pair of powerful night vision goggles. One patrol consisted of three company commanders and a soldier. The other patrol was a single officer acting alone.

While officers on the base knew of the two patrols, the patrols did not know about each other, and the officer who was alone misidentified the group of other officers as suspects and opened fire.

Later in January, two Border Police officers were lightly wounded by IDF fire during an attempt to thwart smuggling along the Egyptian border.

Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report.