Seven IDF soldiers were killed overnight and early Monday battling Hamas on the Israeli side of the border and inside Gaza, the IDF announced on Monday evening. Four of them were killed during a pre-dawn tunnel infiltration into southern Israel in which Hamas terrorists planned to attack Kibbutz Nir Am, military sources said.
The deaths bring the IDF toll since the launch of Israel’s ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza last Thursday night to 25.
The toll is greater than the number of soldiers who died in the two previous major Israeli efforts to thwart Hamas terrorism in 2008-2009 and 2012.
The seven were named as Lt. Col. Dolev Kedar, 38 from Modi’in; SS. Tal Yifrach, 21, from Rishon Lezion; SSgt. Yuval Dagan, 22, from Kfar Sava; Sgt. Nadav Goldmacher, 23, from Beersheba; SFC. Baynesain Kasahun, 39 from Netivot; Sec. Lt. Yuval Haiman, 21 from Efrat; and SS Jordan Ben-Simon, 22 from Ashkelon.
Four of the seven were killed by a rocket-propelled grenade, fired by Hamas gunmen who emerged from a tunnel dug from Gaza into Israel near Kibbutz Nir Am. The Hamas cell, clad in IDF uniforms, emerged from the tunnel, and waited for an approaching IDF jeep before opening fire, killing the IDF officer and the three other soldiers in the vehicle.
The jeep had been sent to the scene as information on the infiltration was received.
Simultaneously, Hamas opened diversionary fire across the border.
Residents of Kibbutz Nir Am were told to stay in their homes while the IDF tackled the terrorist cell.
Troops from the Nahal Brigade converged and killed 10 of the Hamas gunmen. Two of the gunmen may have escaped back into Gaza.
Part of the incident was filmed in footage later released by the IDF.
“We paid a heavy price, but we averted a grave disaster,” said Sami Turgeman, the general in charge of the IDF’s Southern Command. “There is no Iron Dome protection against tunnel infiltration.”
The three other Israeli soldiers were killed in Shejaiya. Two were hit by an anti-tank missile fired into a building. Like the 13 IDF soldiers killed there overnight Saturday-Sunday, they were members of the Golani Brigade. The third may have been killed by IDF forces in error.
Dagan was laid to rest Monday night.
Three more soldiers were badly hurt in the fighting over the past 24 hours, eight were moderately injured, and 19 were lightly injured, the IDF said.
Military sources said Monday night that Hamas was trying to utilize the “attack tunnels” it had spent years building before the IDF discovered them and blew them up. They said some 18 of the sophisticated tunnels had been discovered since the ground offensive began on Thursday.
Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the ongoing military campaign in the Gaza Strip to uncover terrorist tunnels would continue and even be broadened until it achieves its goal of bringing a prolonged quiet to the area.
During a visit to the IDF’s 162nd Armored Division — known as the Steel Division — in the south of the country, Netanyahu held a security meeting with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, and Southern Region Commander Turgeman.
“The operation will continue and be expanded until the goal is achieved — the restoration of quiet to Israel’s citizens for a prolonged period,” Netanyahu said.
The tunnel infiltration early Monday involved two groups of Hamas gunmen who surfaced shortly after six in the morning. Apart from the terror cell that emerged near Nir Am, the second cell, also clad in what looked like standard IDF military gear, emerged near Kibbutz Erez, on Israeli territory, several kilometers northeast of the Gaza city of Beit Hanoun. Surveillance soldiers spotted the infiltrators and summoned an aircraft to the area, the army said. The aircraft opened fire, killing the gunmen. No Israelis were hurt in the battle.
“My understanding is that the Shin Bet security service provided an alert,” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said of both cross-border attacks.
The squad that surfaced near Nir Am emerged from either a separate tunnel or a more southeasterly branch of the same one and was not immediately detected.
Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz told Israel Radio that the army believed the tunnel squads sought either to enter a civilian community or to attack a significant army post, with the ultimate aim of abducting a soldier or a civilian.
Earlier Monday, in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City, forces from the Egoz unit engaged and killed 10 operatives, including one who detonated a suicide vest.
There were conflicting reports about the sex of the suicide bomber, but later reports said it was a woman.
Lerner, in depicting the pitch of the battles in Shejaiya, where dozens of Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed Sunday, said that the combat there is “reminiscent of ‘Black Hawk Down,’ ” the film [and book] describing the 1993 battles in Mogadishu, Somalia.