Netanyahu: Israel 'draped in sorrow over the death of Assaf'

Leaders offer condolences over pilot's death; Peres: Family symbolizes all that's great in Jewish history; Barak: "Our heart breaks for the family."

ashkenazi ramon residence 248 88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
ashkenazi ramon residence 248 88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
Israel's political and military leaders came out with messages of condolence on Sunday after the death of IAF officer Lt. Assaf Ramon - son of the late Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon - who was killed in the afternoon when the F-16 he was piloting crashed into the southern Hebron Hills. In a Sunday evening statement, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that the entire nation was "draped in sorrow over the death of Assaf, who fell from the skies, like his father Ilan, of blessed memory." "This is a horrible tragedy for Rona and the entire Ramon family. It is a tragedy for the people of Israel. I was moved when Ilan, the youngest of the pilots who destroyed the death generator in Iraq, took with him into space a reminder of the destruction of the Holocaust," the prime minister said, referring to a tiny Torah that survived Bergen-Belsen that Ilan took with him on the ill-fated Columbia space mission. "I was again moved deeply when Assaf continued in the path of his father and completed the pilot's course with distinction. The loss of one of these wonderful people, father and son, is a tragedy by itself." "The loss of both brings with it unbearable pain. There is no consolation for Rona and the Ramon family, no consolation for the people of Israel. There are only tears," the prime minister's statement concluded. Speaking during a joint press conference with US Mideast envoy George Mitchell on Sunday evening, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, "Our heart breaks for Rona Ramon, Assaf's siblings, and the whole Ramon family… However, we must continue to build our strength, while extending our hand to peace." President Shimon Peres, who attended Ramon's IAF pilots course graduation ceremony in June, called the young pilot's death "more than a tragedy." "What happened today is more than a tragedy. In our worst nightmares we could never had imagined such a heart-breaking accident," Peres said in a statement. The president went on to praise both Assaf's father Ilan and Assaf himself. "I knew them both, father and son - Ilan and Assaf, fighters, scholars, courageous men, dreamers… As a family they are a symbol for all that is great in Jewish history, all that is courageous in the Jewish state," Peres wrote in the statement. Deputy commander of the IAF, Brig.-Gen. Yohanan Locker, also expressed sadness and offered condolences over Ramon's death. "This is a very difficult day for the IAF especially considering that this is the second time the Ramon family has been struck by a tragedy," said Locker said at a Tel Aviv press conference. "The Ramon family lost Ilan, the first Israeli astronaut and his son Assaf - both exemplary officers and role models for many people in Israel." Despite the tragedy, Locker said that the IAF would remain focused on its various missions at hand. "The IAF is in a very challenging period and we plan to remain sharp to deal with the missions and challenges we face," he said. IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Ido Nehushtan and head of the IDF Manpower Division Avi Zamir personally delivered news of the crash to Rona Ramon, the pilot's mother, and IDF Chief of IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi also visited to offer his condolences.