An IDF soldier — 20-year-old Corporal Netanel Yahalomi, from the small Orthodox community of Nof Ayalon in central Israel — was killed Friday afternoon by terrorists near the Israeli-Egyptian border.
The three terrorists, who were planning a major attack along the border, were subsequently killed by IDF troops from the male-female Caracal Battalion. Two other terrorists fled back into the Sinai, and were still being hunted by Egyptian security authorities on Saturday night.
Yahalomi was a hesder yeshiva student who was completing the military segment of his service in the Artillery Corps. Military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich stated that Yahalomi was shot in the head and later succumbed to his wounds. Yahalomi, a private, was posthumously promoted to corporal.
His funeral was set to be held at 1 a.m. local time on Sunday.
The bodies of the terrorists were transferred overnight Friday to Egyptian authorities and taken to a hospital in El Arish, in northern Sinai. Tribal elders and other local residents were updated regarding the transfer, and were asked by Egyptian security forces to help identify the bodies, and to provide information regarding how the terrorists had arrived at the border.
According to a member of Egypt’s Supreme Military Council, the attack on Israeli soldiers was carried out by members of the terror group Ansar Bayt Al-Maqdes, which is affiliated with Al-Qaeda.
The senior military official told the Egyptian media outlet Al Masry Al Youm on Friday night that the incident was revenge for the killing of Ibrahim Barekat, a member of the group, in an airstrike several weeks earlier.
Yahalomi sister Avital said Yahalomi had insisted on serving in a combat unit, despite a lowered profile because of his poor eyesight. “He fought for us all,” she said. He was a young man who wanted to give his utmost to his country, she said, “and who only sought justice.”
A second soldier, shot alongside Yahalomi and hit in the stomach, was in stable condition at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba as of Saturday morning.
The terrorists, wearing civilian clothing and armed with rifles, hand grenades and explosive belts, began the attack by firing at an artillery force that was both securing work on the border fence, currently under construction in the Har Harif area, and was also looking after a group of would-be African migrants who had been stopped at the fence.
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 from their hiding-place and open fire on the soldiers, killing Yahalomi. 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 African 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 Tal Russo said. He said the terrorists were likely affiliated with Global Jihad.
When the terrorists opened fire, IDF combat soldiers from the co-ed Caracal Battalion rushed to confront them. The speed and effectiveness of the Caracal response was a vindication of the male-female unit, IDF sources said.
As the IDF troops returned fire, their shots detonated a suicide bomber belt worn by one of the gunmen, killing him. The two other terrorists were also killed.
According to the IDF’s account of events, no terrorists managed to infiltrate Israel beyond the border area; Egyptian intelligence officials said earlier that the attackers managed to cross the border and that one of the three blew himself up inside Israel.
IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz conducted a situational assessment following the incident.
The IDF spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, said that the gunmen had planned a major terrorist attack, and that they intended to blow themselves up, killing many Israeli soldiers.
An unconfirmed report on Channel 10 news said that the terrorists had detonated an explosive in the direction of the IDF troops before opening fire.
Some 200 kilometers of the planned 230 km. stretch of border fence have been built during recent accelerated construction, with the aim to both seal the border more effectively against economic migrants and to secure it against Sinai-based terrorists. Last August, in a cross-border infiltration, gunmen from the Sinai killed eight Israelis.
Meanwhile on Friday, a Kuwaiti media outlet reported that the Egyptian government intends to use chemical weapons against terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula.
That decision follows more than a year-and-a-half of violent unrest in the Sinai, since the overthrow of longtime Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Earlier this month, Bedouin Salafi gunmen attacked a Multinational Force and Observers base 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the Israeli border, injuring four foreign officers. And in August, a brazen attack by suspected Islamist terrorists resulted in the death of 16 Egyptian soldiers and an infiltration into Israel.