Hundreds of people came to the Kiryat Shaul military cemetery in Tel Aviv to pay their respects as Sergeant Ron Yitzhak Kokia, an IDF soldier stabbed to death at a bus station in the southern city of Arad, was laid to rest Sunday.
The infantryman was killed Thursday night in an apparent nationalistic attack while waiting for a bus near a shopping mall.
“Go on your way, my son.” Kokia’s mother, Levana, said in front of some 500 friends and family. “Angels will welcome you, and floral tapestries will be laid before you. Go on your way into the arms of God.”
“We have no words to describe how to continue living with the thought that you are not with us,” Kokia’s sister Shani said between sobs. “How were you there [in the bus station] all by yourself without us around to protect you? We so badly want to have been there during your last moments to hug you and not let go.”
Large numbers of security forces carried out searches overnight and into Friday morning in the Arad area to locate the attackers, publishing pictures of searches in agricultural fields and animal sheds.
Police said Friday that officers were searching the area for two assailants who fled the scene and had set up roadblocks and “heightened security measures.” Helicopters also took part in the search.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that security forces were working to capture the attackers.
“They will be brought to justice and we will continue to fight terror with all our strength,” he wrote on Facebook, offering condolences to Kokia’s family.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tweeted Friday morning that “security forces will not rest until they lay their hands on the terrorist who murdered Kokia.”
Police say the fact that the victim was a soldier, together with eyewitness testimony, has led them to suspect that the stabbing was a Palestinian attack.
“Following an initial investigation by police forces at the scene it appears that the motivation for the stabbing… was nationalistic,” police said in a statement Thursday night.
Kokia, from Tel Aviv, served in the Nahal Brigade, an infantry unit whose home base is located just outside Arad.
The soldier was waiting for a ride near a mall in the southern city at about 9:30 p.m. when he was attacked.
When medics arrived at the scene, they found him in critical condition, unconscious and without a pulse, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service.
A helicopter was ordered to rush him to hospital. Medics performed CPR in the ambulance but were forced to pronounce him dead before they reached the helicopter, one of the medics said.
His family donated his organs, Army Radio reported.