The father of a senior special forces officer who was killed overnight during an operation in the Gaza Strip said Monday he hopes that his son’s death will be the last Israel suffers.
The army described the incident, in which another officer was moderately injured which sparked hours of clashes, as an intelligence-gathering mission that went awry.
Most details of the raid, including the identity of the officer who was killed, remained subject to a military censor and could not be published.
“This is a great loss,” the father said, according to a report from Hadashot news television. “I hope it will be the final loss for the people of Israel.”
A close relative said that the officer, who has been identified by the military only by the Hebrew initial “Mem,” joined the army after high school and had remained in the service ever since.
The lieutenant colonel was 41 years old, was married with two children and lived in a town in northern Israel.
“He was a social activist and contributed greatly,” the relative said. “The family didn’t know what he did aside from the fact that he was a senior officer in an elite unit. His family was exemplary, his wife works in the medical sector and helps children.”
A close acquaintance of Lt. Col. Mem said he volunteered in various organizations and “raised the next generation with values of patriotism, and values of contributing and volunteering.”
“He began to think of the future, of advancing in the civilian security establishment,” the acquaintance said. “Or alternatively, he considered progressing through the military establishment.”
Condolences and commiserations over the death of the officer came from senior Israeli figures including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein.
Netanyahu tweeted: “I bow my head in sadness at the loss of Lt. Col. Mem, a glorious fighter who fell during an IDF operation in the Gaza Strip.”
The injured soldier, who has also not been identified, regained consciousness Monday morning, and was not in life-threatening danger, Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center said in a statement.
After he regained consciousness, his wife and children were allowed to see him for a short time.
His mother, who was also at the hospital intensive care unit where he is being treated, told Hadashot news of her relief that he was still alive.
“I pray that my son recovers as soon as possible,” she said. “It is a miracle that I got him back alive. I couldn’t bear to see his children, my grandchildren, crying. It was hard. I left the room.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett also paid a visit to the officer at the hospital and declared that the deceased soldier and his wounded comrade were “national heroes.”
“I send my deepest condolences to the family of Lt.-Col. Mem, and wish a speedy recovery to those wounded,” Bennett said.
The wounded officer’s brother told Hadashot news that he still had not seen his sibling.
“The whole family and I are praying for his health,” the brother said. “We believe God is watching over him. We want to thank all the people who are interested in his welfare.”
IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis said Monday that the overnight mission in Gaza was intended as an intelligence-gathering mission by IDF special forces operating deep inside Gaza, not an assassination or kidnapping attempt.
At some point during the operation, the Israeli troops clashed with local Hamas fighters, killing a senior commander and several other members of the Gaza-ruling terrorist group.
The IDF unit called in aerial support — aircraft to bomb the surrounding area — and made its away out of the Gaza Strip.
Manelis said the soldiers operating in Gaza overnight “became trapped in a highly complex situation but they had responded “heroically, hit those who threatened them and extracted themselves to Israeli territory.”
According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, seven Palestinians in total were killed in the exchange and another seven were injured.
Following the raid, Palestinian terrorist groups launched at least 17 projectiles — rockets and mortar shells — at southern Israel. Three of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system. The rest fell in open fields outside populated communities, one of them causing light damage to a greenhouse in the Eshkol region.
Hamas accused Israel of sabotaging an emerging ceasefire agreement that was brokered by Egypt and supported by Qatar.