Kassam rocket lands near Sderot; Staff Sgt. Yonatan Evron, killed early Wednesday, laid to rest.
By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
One civilian was lightly wounded and five others treated for shock on Wednesday evening when a mortar shell exploded after striking a house in Netiv Ha'asara, a moshav located near the northern Gaza border.
One of the two morter shells hit the home of Nitzan Dafna in the moshav. Dafna sustained facial wounds from the shrapnel while in his car with his two-year-old daughter. He was rushed to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon.
Dafna told Israel Radio Thursday morning that as he parked his car at home he saw a flash of light and felt a serious blow to his face. He then hurried to the back to take his daughter from her car seat and bring her safely home when he noticed he was bleeding from his mouth and that his shirt was stained with blood.
The shell also damaged a vehicle as well as electric power lines, causing a power cut in the community.
Shortly afterwards, a second shell landed inside the community, causing no injuries. IDF artillery units shelled the areas in northern Gaza from where the mortar shells were fired.
Early Wednesday St.-Sgt. Yonathan Evron, 20, of Rishon Lezion was killed in Marka near Jenin during an operation to arrest a senior Hamas fugitive involved in the Hadera suicide bombing .
Evron, a soldier in the elite Maglan infantry unit, was securing the perimeter of the fugitive's house as other soldiers brought the suspect out. A terrorist hiding among bushes behind the troops opened fire, hitting Evron in the head. He was treated at the site by medics but died in the helicopter transporting him to the hospital.
Evron is the first soldier to be killed in the line of duty by terrorists since the disengagement.
Evron, who is survived by his parents Avi and Talila and his younger brother Itamar, was buried in the military cemetery of his hometown on Wednesday afternoon. Friends and former teachers described him as a fun-loving person who enjoyed his military service and never complained about the dangerous operations he participated in or the hardships he encountered. He spent many years abroad in Kenya with his parents, who were emissaries, and returned to Israel and entered the Mikve Yisrael school for 9th grade.
His high school teacher Yair Ganaton said that, as the result of his time abroad, he had excellent English. "He loved to travel. He loved the world and the world loved him," Ganaton said.
In spite of Evron's late entry into the Israeli school system, he excelled in his matriculation exams. "He had high marks in all subjects," said Ganaton. On class trips he volunteered to help. "You didn't need to ask. He was always there," he said. The class graduation party was held at Evron's house, said Ganaton.
Evron stayed in touch with him after graduation, said his teacher. He learned of his student's death at 7 a.m., when a fellow teacher called.
Evron's unit is due to complete the exhaustive 20-month intensive training course next week. Because of the escalation in violence, soldiers of the unit, who normally operate in the North, were dispatched to northern Samaria where they have conducted daily raids to nab fugitives.
"Yonathan was the love of my life," Efrat, his girlfriend of three years, told reporters. Yonathan loved hiking, and "gave his all to the army," she said. She recalled a two-week trip the two spent in Italy prior to his being conscripted. Yonathan adored his family and his little brother Itamar, she said.
Hamas announced responsibility for the shooting, a spokesman told al-Jazeera. Several terrorists in the Jenin area spoke with pride of Evron's death.
Brig.-Gen. Yair Golan, the Judea and Samaria division commander, told reporters that the soldiers had successfully completed their mission when Evron was shot. As the fugitive was being taken out of the house, soldiers heard a noise in the bushes and called on the intruders to halt. It was then that the gunman opened fire, hitting Evron. Soldiers returned fire and the gunman fled. Troops searching the area located 20 meters from the house found the gunman's Kalashnikov rifle and matching ammunition clip covered in blood.
Golan described the situation soldiers are confronted with when conducting such raids as complex, as they occur within the Palestinian civilian population. Because of this, when soldiers hear any suspicious noises they call out and fire warning shots in the air rather then shooting at the source of the noise for fear of harming innocent civilians, he said.
While an initial probe showed that the soldiers acted in accordance with regulations and wore the necessary protective equipment, it is impossible to guarantee their absolute protection, he said. Golan praised the soldiers' actions, noting they responded rapidly to the unfolding situation.
Discussing the intensive IDF crackdown on terror infrastructure in northern Samaria, Golan said the army isolated the Jenin area several days ago, restricting movement southward, in an attempt to nab terrorists linked to the infrastructure that prepared the Hadera bombing. The success of the elite Duvdevan unit's raids in Kabatiya earlier in the week led to the lifting of the restrictions, he said.
"Israeli civilians can rest assured that everything is being done to hamper the terror infrastructure, but we cannot guarantee 100% success. While the Islamic Jihad infrastructure in northern Samaria has been dealt a significant blow because of the ongoing military activities, it remains active," he said.
Golan noted that terror cells in the southern Hebron Hills area responsible for the shooting attacks at Beit Hagai and Gush Etzion continue to operate. "Currently, all the terror organizations are doing their utmost to improve their operational capability," he said. "When the truce ends, security forces will be faced with a challenge."
In the late afternoon, a series of gun battles erupted between soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in the town. Soldiers identified hitting three gunmen, but their conditions are unclear.
Tuesday night, Palestinians in northern Gaza fired a Kassam rocket and mortar shell at the western Negev. In both instances there were no casualties or damage reported. In response, IDF artillery units shelled the areas from where the rockets and mortar shell was fired.
Earlier in the evening, the Red Dawn early warning system alerted residents of Sderot to an incoming Kassam rocket attack. The rocket fell in an open area outside the city, but its location has yet to be found by security forces.
Earlier, near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, also near the northern Gaza security fence, security forces dismantled a 25-kilogram bomb that had been placed near the fence.
In the West Bank, a Palestinian gunman was killed after being shot by soldiers operating in Kabatiya south of Jenin in the morning. The gunman was identified as RafatTurkman, a member of the Aksa Martyrs Brigades. A gun battle erupted as soldiers surrounded a house where Turkman was believed to be hiding. He was taken to a local hospital and died hours later.
In Jenin, local Aksa Martyrs Brigades Commander Zachariya Zubeidi told a European TV crew that the fight in his town will continue until Israeli raids cease. As part of an ongoing effort among Aksa fighters, Zubeidi is currently negotiating the absorption of his men into the Palestinian Authority's security apparatus. He said that ultimately his men needed a secure job and a guarantee that the IDF will not hunt them down.
Over the past five years the city of Jenin has built a new cemetery on the western edges of town called "the Martyrs Cemetery" to accommodate those killed in terrorist attacks against Israel or during IDF raids.
The nearby town of Yamun lost 16 locals during the first intifada. In the second intifada, the town of some 13,000 exported six suicide bombers and lost dozens in fighting the IDF, according to locals.
Tovah Lazaroff and Matthew Gutman contributed to this report.