IDF soldier Netanel Yahalomi, 20, who was killed Friday afternoon by terrorists near the Israeli-Egyptian border, was laid to rest early Sunday morning in the military cemetery in Modiin.
Hundreds gathered at the synagogue in the small Orthodox community of Nof Ayalon in central Israel to hear the eulogies for Yahalomi, a hesder yeshiva student who was completing the military segment of his service in the Artillery Corps when he was killed.
“Over 20 years ago, we had a baby and we called him Netanel because we felt that we had been given a gift. Now we’re returning the gift,” Yahalomi’s father, Shmuel, reportedly said in a reference to the Hebrew meaning of the name Netanel, “God has given.”
“How do you say goodbye to a brother? I never thought I’d have to say good bye so soon,” Yahalomi’s sister Avital said, according to Walla. ”We won’t see your smile again, but our souls are connected… When we heard today how you reacted [to the gunfire], we weren’t surprised – how you immediately reacted, even before you had a chance to put on a helmet… If this sacrifice had to be made, at least it was made in the defense of our homeland.”
During the service, the chief rabbi of the IDF, Brig.-Gen. Rafi Peretz, read a psalm. After the eulogies, the funeral procession drove to Modiin, where Yahalomi was buried. He was posthumously promoted from private to corporal.
Yahalomi was shot in the head on Friday afternoon when terrorists in civilian clothing fired at his artillery force, which was securing work on the border fence in the Har Harif area while looking after a group of African migrants that had been stopped at the fence.
Three of the terrorists, who were heavily armed and, according to IDF, were planning a major attack along the border, were killed by the soldiers. Two others fled back into the Sinai, and were still being hunted by Egyptian security authorities on Saturday night.
A second soldier, who was wounded in the stomach during the incident, was in stable condition at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba as of Saturday.
A preliminary IDF probe revealed that the gunmen exploited the presence of the group of African asylum-seekers — to whom several of the Israeli soldiers were offering basic humanitarian assistance — in order to approach the border. According to the IDF Spokesperson, the gunmen hid their weapons in pits on the Egyptian side of the border and left behind a number of “backup” gunmen in Egypt before sneaking up, behind the unwitting cover of the migrants, to fire at the soldiers.
Some of the soldiers “were giving water” to the migrants, whom Israel had turned back at the border, when they came under fire, the IDF’s Southern Command chief, Maj.-Gen. Tal Russo, said. He noted that the terrorists were likely affiliated with the Global Jihad movement.
AP contributed to this report.