Israelis across the political spectrum expressed their sorrow and condolences to the family of a Druze special-forces soldier killed in a firefight with Hamas operatives in Gaza on Sunday night, which broke out when intelligence forces were discovered and attacked.
Lt. Col. M, whose name and details of death were withheld by military censors, was on an intelligence-gathering mission in a mosque deep inside Gaza with his team when the group’s cover was blown and the soldiers were attacked.
The 41-year-old father of two was killed in the fighting, and another soldier was moderately wounded.
The team called in Israeli Air Force reinforcements, which provided cover in the form of aerial bombardment while the team escaped back to Israel. Palestinian media shared photos of the car the troops allegedly used to drive 3 kilometers into Gaza, which had been bombed—most likely by Israel in order to destroy classified documents and equipment.
“IDF troops that operated last night in the Gaza Strip became trapped in a highly complex situation,” said IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis. “The soldiers acted heroically, hit those who threatened them and extracted themselves to Israeli territory.”
The soldier is expected to be buried in his hometown on Monday afternoon, with Communications Minister Ayoub Kara arriving to represent the government at his funeral.
Military officials have said that the operation the officer was involved with was of utmost importance to Israeli security, and Israeli officials heralded him as a hero who laid down his life for the whole country.
“I bow my head in sadness at the loss of Lt. Col. M., a glorious fighter who fell during an IDF operation in the Gaza Strip,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Twitter. “The day will come when we can tell of all his valor. The citizens of Israel owe him an enormous debt.”
In the wake of the loss, he cut short an official state trip to Paris and flew immediately home to Israel.
In the incident, Qassam Brigades commander Nour Baraka was killed, along with six other Hamas members by Israeli special forces. An additional seven Palestinians were injured. Their identities and the circumstances surrounding their presence on the scene were not revealed.
Baraka allegedly held leadership in Hamas’s terror tunnel program and served as the commander of a Khan Younis terror battalion. Though Baraka was a high-value target, the IDF insisted that the operation was not an assassination attempt, and that soldiers were only on a fact-finding mission, but that complications during the mission led to the killing of Baraka.
Soon after the fight, Gaza terror groups launched at least 17 rockets into Israel. No injuries were reported, and only one agricultural greenhouse was lightly damaged.
The flareup came just two days after Israel allowed Qatar to send $15 million in cash to Hamas as part of a reported ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.