Soldier killed in accident on Gaza border as Gallant sends more troops to Rafah

Sgt. Maj. (res.) Ran Yavetz sixth soldier to be killed in tragic mistake in two days, after Jabaliya friendly fire incident; primed rocket launchers uncovered in southern Gaza city

Sgt. Maj. (res.) Ran Yavetz, 39, of the Bislamach Brigade's 6828th Battalion, who was killed in an operational accident on the border with Gaza, May 16, 2024. (Courtesy)
Sgt. Maj. (res.) Ran Yavetz, 39, of the Bislamach Brigade's 6828th Battalion, who was killed in an operational accident on the border with Gaza, May 16, 2024. (Courtesy)

A military reservist was killed in an “operational accident” on the border with the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces said Thursday, a day after five soldiers were killed due to a case of mistaken identity.

Sgt. Maj. (res.) Ran Yavetz, 39, was killed in a blast caused by Israeli munitions in a military zone near the Black Arrow memorial site, hundreds of meters inside Israel.

Yavetz, from Modiin, had served with the Bislamach Brigade’s 6828th Battalion.

Four other soldiers were lightly injured in the accident, which was under further investigation, the army said.

On Thursday morning, the IDF announced that five Israeli soldiers were killed and another seven wounded, including three seriously, in a friendly fire incident in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya the night before.

The deaths brought the toll of slain troops in the IDF ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza and in operations on the border to 279. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in Gaza.

At least 50 of the fatalities have been due to friendly fire and other accidents, according to IDF data.

Family and friends of Israeli soldier Captain Roy Beit Yaakov attend his funeral at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem on May 16, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The army has assessed that myriad reasons have led to the deadly accidents, including communication issues between forces, and soldiers being exhausted and not paying attention to regulations.

Tanks continued to push into the heart of Jabaliya in northern Gaza on Thursday, facing anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs from Hamas fighters concentrated, Palestinians reported.

Israel says it has eliminated many gunmen in Jabaliya but had no new comment on developments there on Thursday.

In Rafah, where residents reported heavy Israeli bombardments, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced that more troops would be deployed in Gaza’s southernmost city, the focus of intense international consternation.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on the southern border with the Gaza Strip, May 15, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“This operation will continue with additional forces that will enter [the area]. Several tunnels in the area have been destroyed by our forces and more tunnels will be destroyed soon,” Gallant said in remarks provided by his office.

Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri responded that the Palestinian terror group would defend its people “by all means.”

Israel says four of Hamas’s six remaining battalions are now in Rafah along with hostages abducted during the terror group’s October 7 massacre, but it faces international pressure not to invade the city, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinian civilians are sheltering amid the ongoing war. Two more Hamas battalions remain in central Gaza, in the Nuseirat and Deir al-Balah camps.

The United Nations says that over 600,000 Gazans have evacuated the city since the IDF began operations there last week by taking over the Palestinian side of the Rafah Border Crossing.

A tank with an Israeli flag on it enters the Gazan side of the Rafah Border Crossing on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces via AP)

South Africa on Thursday asked the International Court of Justice to halt the IDF’s military campaign in Rafah — and in all of Gaza — claiming that Israel has genocidal intent against Palestinians.

Citing comments by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich who was quoted by Haaretz at the end of April as saying, “There are no half-measures. Rafah, Deir al-Balah, Nusseirat – total annihilation,” as evidence of Israeli genocidal intent, Attorney Tembeka Ngcukaitobi also played a video of IDF soldiers before entering the southern Gazan city praying and then singing, “We will dismantle Rafah.”

South Africa told the top UN court that the Rafah offensive was “part of the endgame in which Gaza is utterly destroyed.” Israel has denied allegations of genocide in Gaza and said it had complied with an earlier court order to step up aid.

Israel will respond to South Africa at Friday’s hearing.

The IDF began sending troops into Rafah on May 7, in what it has described as a pinpoint operation, with soldiers currently holding a relatively small area southeast of the city.

The IDF said that troops of the 414th Combat Intelligence Collection Unit located several primed rocket launchers with long-range projectiles Thursday.

A rocket launcher after it was destroyed by troops in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in a handout image published May 16, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The launchers, some of which were used in attacks on Israeli cities in recent months, were located and demolished using drones, the military said.

In a different area of Rafah, the IDF said troops located another rocket launching site with dozens of launchers, before it was also demolished. This site had also been used in recent attacks on Israeli cities, including last week’s barrage on Beersheba, according to the military.

Palestinians who fled Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip arrive with their belongings to Khan Younis on May 15, 2024. (AFP)

The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw thousands of terrorists burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid acts of brutality and sexual assault. Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas to ensure it no longer poses a threat, but is also involved in indirect talks with the group aimed at an extended truce and exchange of hostages for Palestinian security prisoners.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 35,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Agencies and Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report. 

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