The soldier killed Friday by Palestinian sniper fire along the Gaza border was named by the IDF on Saturday night as Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi.
Levi, a 21-year-old from Petah Tikva, was an infantry soldier in the Givati Brigade. Levi was the first IDF fatality on the Gaza front since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
“The IDF shares in the family’s sorrow,” the military said in a statement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that Levi fought terror in Gaza “with determination and bravery, and to our great sorrow, sometimes this struggle bears a very price.”
“I am sending condolences from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of myself and on behalf of all Israeli citizens, to his family,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
“Levi fell defending the nation, the land and the residents of the Gaza periphery. My heart is with his family this evening. May his memory be blessed,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman wrote in a tweet Saturday.
Levi was wearing a bulletproof vest when he was hit in the chest, Hadashot TV news reported on Saturday. He was initially listed as seriously wounded but his condition deteriorated quickly.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Levi’s girlfriend, Shahar Erez, wrote of a fearless young man with whom she was planning a future.
“My dearest love, my fighter. The heart burns and the tears don’t stop. Who would have thought you’d be gone so quickly?” she wrote.
“You were never scared, no matter what was in front of you. My Aviv, we had a million plans ahead of us and we were counting the days until we’d be together again. In two weeks you have a birthday, and while I was making plans for a perfect birthday celebration, everything exploded.”
“I refuse to believe this is real. I refuse to believe you are gone,” she went on.
Levi was the oldest of four siblings. His parents and two brothers were on holiday in Italy when he was killed, and flew back to Israel immediately.
His funeral was set for noon on Sunday at the military cemetery in Petah Tikva. Levi’s family made a request through the military to the press to avoid media coverage of the burial.
Levi’s death on Friday sparked a wave of Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. Four Gazans — three of them confirmed by Hamas as its members — were killed in Friday’s violence.
Hadashot TV news reported that while Israel’s response was unusually harsh, the IDF was on the brink of a more dramatic operation when Hamas rushed to agree to a ceasefire. This was not confirmed.
Channel 10 news said that Egyptian mediators warned Hamas that if it responded to Israel’s airstrikes, launched in reprisal for Levi’s killing, Israel would “go to war in two hours.” This, too, was not confirmed. The Channel 10 report said Hamas is demanding an easing of border control with Egypt, and an increase in supplies entering the strip from Israel. It also said Hamas was preparing for the possibility of further escalation and conflict.
A top Israeli official said Hamas had pledged to stop rocket fire, shootings, and kite and balloon arson attacks, but Hamas denied making a commitment as regards kites and balloons.
Nonetheless, Saturday saw the fewest launches of arson kites and balloons in weeks.
The ceasefire announced overnight Friday-Saturday largely held in place Saturday.
It was disturbed briefly by the launch of an incendiary device that sparked a fire in a cowshed and storage center at Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
This prompted Israeli reprisal fire at a Hamas post on Saturday afternoon.
The Israeli response was the second tank shell strike in the day. Earlier a tank fired at a Hamas observation point east of Gaza City, saying it was retaliation for an attempted border infiltration in northern Gaza. The suspects returned to the enclave, according to the army. There were no reports of Palestinian casualties.