The IDF on Sunday evening released the names of five out of 13 Israeli soldiers killed in combat in the Gaza Strip before dawn.
The soldiers were: Maj. Tsafrir Baror, 32, of Holon; Capt. Tsvi Kaplan, 28, of Kibbutz Meirav; Sgt. Gilad Yacoby, 21, of Kiryat Ono; Sgt. Oz Mendelovich, 21, of Atzmon and Sgt. Sean Carmeli, 21, of Ra’anana.
Further names were set to be released for publication during Monday.
Maj. Tsafrir Baror of Holon had served in the Golani Brigade for the past 14 years and had fought in Gaza, Lebanon and the West Bank. He leaves behind a wife, 8 months pregnant, and a year-old daughter.
Capt. Tsvi Kaplan of Kibbutz Meirav grew up in Haifa. He served in various command positions in Golani and was set to become a company commander within the coming months. He leaves behind a wife and two children, aged 5 and 3.
Sgt. Gilad Yacoby of Kiryat Ono was drafted into the service in March 2012. He was described by his family a sports and music lover who was highly motivated to serve in the IDF. He leaves behind his parents and two sisters.
Sgt. Oz Mendelovich of Atzmon in the Galilee was visited by his father Ofer days before entering Gaza. Ofer said he had taken a train to the south to visit his son a week ago because he had had “a bad feeling.” He took a picture of his son with his friends, then thought of it as an ominous act. Oz laughed it off saying “But you’ve already taken my picture.” He leaves behind his parents, a sister and a brother.
Sgt. Sean Carmeli of Ra’anana was born and raised in Texas. He immigrated to Israel in 2009, joining his two sisters here, and completed his High School studies. He was drafted to Golani in 2012. His parents are on their way to Israel after receiving word of their son’s death.
The fighting on Sunday took place in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, in the northern part of the 40-kilometer-long Strip, a Hamas stronghold that is home to some 100,000 people.
Seven of the soldiers killed on Sunday died shortly after 1 a.m. when an anti-tank mine exploded under an Israeli armored personnel carrier. Another soldier was killed in a firefight about 20 minutes later. Two more soldiers were killed in exchanges of gunfire with Hamas around 6 a.m., and three others died when an anti-tank missile was fired into a building in which they were setting up a command post, setting it on fire.
In the overnight fighting, an unspecified number of soldiers were also wounded, including Col. Ghassan Alian, the commander of the Golani Brigade, whose wound was deemed light to moderate.
IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz said the IDF would not be deterred by the deaths from its mission, to restore sustained security from Hamas attack for Israel’s citizens. He said the IDF would “learn from the incident” and that “the enemy had prepared” for conflict with Israel.
“In battle there are casualties, but our role is to fulfill missions –- and we will continue in that,” said Lt. Gen. Gantz. “The residents of Shejaiya, too, know that they fell victim to the deployment of Hamas personnel in the neighborhood.”
To the “misfortune of Gaza’s residents,” Gantz said, Hamas “instead of building houses, schools, hospitals and factories” had built a war machine in residential areas.
Overall, said Gantz, the IDF offensive against Hamas was proceeding well, and the soldiers were doing “fantastic work.” He said: “I’m proud of them. All of Israel should be proud of them.”
The ambush in which the seven soldiers were killed triggered a heavy aerial bombardment of the area, prompting thousands of residents to flee on foot, AFP reported. Reports quoted Palestinian medical officials in Gaza saying that more than 70 Palestinians, among them many civilians, were killed in the fighting. Thousands more fled the neighborhood.
Four other IDF soldiers were killed in fighting earlier Saturday.
Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.