One Israeli soldier was killed and two others were wounded, along with an Israeli civilian, after Hamas operatives fired an anti-tank guided missile at their jeep just north of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, the military said.
The Israel Defense Forces identified the fallen soldier as Staff Sgt. Omer Tabib, 21, from Elyakim, a member of the Nahal Infantry Brigade’s 931st Battalion.
An officer in the jeep was seriously injured and a third soldier in the vehicle was moderately wounded, the military said. A civilian man who ran to help pull the three out of the jeep also sustained moderate injuries from shrapnel, medics said.
The three soldiers had been tasked with protecting Kibbutz Netiv Ha’asara, one of the Israeli communities closest to the Gaza border, against the possibility of an infiltration attack from the Strip, IDF spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said.
Their jeep was parked within Netiv Ha’asara, which lies on a hill overlooking northern Gaza, in an area within direct view of the Strip — and thus vulnerable to attack — when it was struck by the anti-tank guided missile.
The Hamas terror group later released graphic video footage of the missile attack, showing the ATGM team aiming at the jeep and then firing a missile at the vehicle, causing a massive explosion.
Immediately after the missile strike, terrorists in the Strip began launching multiple waves of mortar shells at the area in an apparent effort to keep medical personnel away from the scene. Military and civilian medics anyway entered the area, under fire, to remove and treat the three injured soldiers.
“We arrived to casualties on the ground while sirens and continued fire were heard in the background. The victims suffered from injuries from the blast and shrapnel. We gave them treatment while protecting them and ourselves. After providing emergency critical care in the field, we were forced to flee the area from the missile and mortar fire, evacuating the victims to a safe area, and there, with the help of a Magen David Adom doctor and other MDA medics, we took them to the hospital,” an MDA medic Ravit Martinez said.
Since Monday, the IDF has blocked off roads and closed sites overlooking the Gaza Strip in order to prevent precisely such anti-tank guided missile attacks, in part due to lessons learned from incidents in November 2018 and May 2019, in which a soldier was seriously injured and a civilian man was killed, respectively.
Yet Zilberman said the soldiers had not behaved incorrectly by parking the jeep where they did, that this was a calculated risk necessary because of the topography of the area.
The head of the IDF Southern Command Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano similarly said he did not believe the attack on the jeep was the result of a mistake, but just a factor of the location of Netiv Ha’asara.
“We are in the middle of combat. Combat is a complicated thing. Combat involves conflict, with the enemy and with the territory,” Toledano told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
Tabib’s funeral was scheduled for 11 a.m. on Thursday morning in the military cemetery in his hometown of Elyakim, the IDF said.
This was the second Israeli vehicle to be hit by an anti-tank guided missile since renewed fighting began on Monday evening. Shortly after the violence broke out, an ATGM was fired at an Israeli civilian man’s car on a hill south of the town of Sderot, in an area that had been blocked off earlier in the day, but that the man had somehow gotten to anyway.
The man was lightly injured in the attack, sustained wounds from the blast and shrapnel, medics said.
Palestinian terrorists fired nearly 1,300 rockets and mortar shells toward Israel throughout from Monday evening to Wednesday night, and the IDF retaliated with hundreds of strikes on Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets in the Strip, including senior leaders, as the two sides engaged in the most significant fighting since the 2014 Gaza war.
Seven people have been killed in Israel in attacks from the Gaza Strip since Monday, including a 5-year-old boy in Sderot on Wednesday night, and dozens more injured, including a 5-year-old girl in critical condition.
According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, at least 65 people have been killed in the Strip, including 16 children, and 365 have been injured. The IDF on Wednesday said at least 40 of those killed in Gaza were members of terror groups. Israel, as well as the Palestinian human rights group Defense for Children, said that at least some of the people killed were hit by rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel but landed short of the border and landed inside the Strip.
Hamas, which is officially dedicated to the destruction of the State of Israel, took effective control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 from the Palestinian Authority in a violent coup. Since then, Israel has imposed a naval blockade on the enclave, as well as stiff control over what can enter the Strip, maintaining that it is necessary in order to prevent terror groups from smuggling weapons into the area.
Palestinian terror groups have tied the attacks to the unrest in Jerusalem connected to both prayer on the Temple Mount during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the pending eviction of a number of Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
Israel has fought three large operations against Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip since 2008, most recently in 2014 with a 51-day war known as Operation Protective Edge.
Aaron Boxerman and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.