A senior Israel Defense Forces officer killed while leading his troops to arrest two suspected terrorists early Wednesday was identified as Maj. Bar Falah, 30, the deputy commander of the elite Nahal reconnaissance unit, the military said.
The two gunmen, one of whom was an officer in the Palestinian Authority security services, were killed in the subsequent firefight.
Falah, from the coastal city of Netanya, was hailed for his bravery.
“A warrior in all his being, he fought terrorism and led his fighters until his final hour. The operational activity in which he was killed thwarted a major terrorist attack and saved many lives,” said Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
“There are no words to console his family, partner, and friends over this great loss,” Lapid said.
“Bar lost his life fulfilling the mission of protecting and maintaining the safety of the citizens of Israel. My condolences to his family, his partner, and his loved ones,” said President Isaac Herzog.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Falah as a “hero in life and death.”
At the family home where relatives gathered in shock, Falah’s uncle Eli Hasson hailed him as a dedicated soldier.
“He had been sent on a posting for the army to the US, but despite the good conditions he came back to the field to take up this position,” Hasson told the Walla news site.
“He told me, ‘I’ll defend my soldiers with my body,’ and that’s what he did,” he said.
According to the IDF, soldiers operating surveillance cameras spotted two suspects in the so-called seam zone between the West Bank and Israel, near the Palestinian village of Jalamah, before dawn on Wednesday. Troops dispatched to investigate flanked the pair and initiated arrest procedures.
At that point “the suspects opened fire at the soldiers,” the military said in a statement. “IDF troops took cover and shot at the suspects, neutralizing them.”
The two Palestinian gunmen were named by Palestinian media as Ahmed Abed and Abdul Rahman Abed, from the village of Kafr Dan near Jenin. Ahmed was an officer in the PA security services.
The commander of the IDF’s West Bank division, Brig. Gen. Avi Blot, told reporters that the gunmen were first spotted more than two hours before the shooting.
He confirmed that the pair, armed with a Carlo makeshift submachine gun and another semi-automatic weapon, were killed.
Blot said the military suspected they were planning to ambush troops in the area. An armed drone was scrambled to the scene, but was not used as the military did not immediately identify that the two suspects were armed, Blot said.
“Sadly it is not a good morning. We lost an officer last night. I convey my condolences to his family and his girlfriend,” military chief Aviv Kohavi said, addressing a military conference on Wednesday morning.
The exchange came as tensions have spiked in the region in recent weeks, with Israeli forces ratcheting up arrest raids and other counter-terror efforts, which Palestinians say have inflamed anger.
The fatal incident occurred near the scene of another shooting attack less than 24 hours earlier. On Tuesday morning, a Defense Ministry engineering vehicle working along the security barrier in the same area came under gunfire. There were no injuries, but the vehicle was damaged.
A senior Israeli official told reporters accompanying Lapid to Germany on Monday that Israel was “toughening up IDF operations in places like Jenin and Nablus.”
Much attention has been focused on the seam zone, a swath of West Bank land on the Israeli side of the barrier. In recent months, the IDF has dispatched thousands of troops to the area to prevent Palestinians from crossing into Israel illegally.
Jalamah is located adjacent to the security barrier just north of Jenin, where a number of the attacks earlier in the year originated and where the IDF has concentrated much of its anti-terror campaign.
Israeli troops have repeatedly come under gunfire during nightly raids in the West Bank. The military launched the operation after a series of deadly attacks that killed 19 people between mid-March and the beginning of May.
More than 2,000 suspects have been detained since the beginning of the year, according to the Shin Bet security agency.
In raids across the West Bank during the predawn hours of Wednesday, troops arrested seven wanted Palestinians and seized several weapons, with violent incidents in some areas, the IDF said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.