Stephen Oryszczuk on the dreadful sacrifices being made by IDF soldiers and their families

The widows of fallen Israeli soldiers this week said that the operation in Gaza showed Israel was “still fighting its War of Independence” as the number of casualties on both sides grew.

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The funeral of Sean Carmelli

Mourning the loss of life on both sides of the conflict in Gaza, Israelis paid tribute to those killed since the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) launched a ground assault.

The death toll began to rise on the early hours of Friday 18 July, when 20-year old Staff Sgt. Eitan Barak, from Herzliya, a combat soldier in the Nahal Brigade, was killed in Beit Hannun, in the northern Gaza Strip. Army officials are still investigating whether he was killed by friendly fire.

Then, on Saturday, news of further losses reached Israeli ears, when lawyer and father-of-three Maj. Amotz Greenburg, a 45-year old reservist from Hod Hasharon, was killed together with Sgt. Adar Barsano, 20, of Nahariya, after militants emerged from a tunnel near Kibbutz Kissufim.

“He was an amazing person, salt of the earth,” said Greenburg’s friend Yossi Keret. “He went out of a feeling of mission.” Barsano’s friend Bar Schaps, meanwhile, recalled “a good boy, who took care of his friends before himself, cheered everyone on and made them laugh.”

On the same day, Staff Sgt. Bnaya Rubel, 20, of Holon, was killed when Hamas gunmen in southern Gaza emerged from another tunnel, while 21-year-old Bar Rahav, of Ramat Yishai in northern Israel, an Engineering Corps officer cadet, died when an anti-tank missile destroyed the vehicle he was operating near a refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

Rahav was a member of the Israeli national water polo team and was offered special benefits by the IDF because of his athletic career, but he chose to join a combat unit and serve with the rest of his peers.

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Shimon Peres with mourners

“Although he could have been an outstanding athlete, he chose combat service in the army,” said his uncle, Moran Binyamin. “I was afraid for him because he always did whatever was required.”

Overnight, yet more news of Israeli deaths filtered through when 13 soldiers from the IDF’s Golani Brigade were killed in various incidents of combat.

Among them were Maj. Tzafrir Baror, 32, also from Holon, and Cpt. Tsvi Kaplan, 28, from Kedumim. The commander of the Golani Brigade, Colonel Raslan Alian, was wounded.

Also listed as killed were Gilad Yaakobi, Oz Mendelovitch, Nissim Sean Carmelli, Moshe Melako, Shachar Tase, Max Steinburg, Shon Mondshine, Ben Oanounou and Oren Noach. All were Staff Sergeants aged between 19 and 24 years old. Several were posthumously promoted.

Most were killed in and around Shujaiyeh, in the eastern Gaza Strip. In one incident, a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) was fired at a military vehicle, killing at least six soldiers were killed and severely wounding two.

Following this incident, Hamas said they captured an Israeli soldier, Shaul Oron, showing his identity tags. Israeli officials believe he is likely to have been killed in the attack, but his body is unaccounted for, so he is listed as Missing in Action.

It is not just Israelis mourning Israeli losses: two US citizens were among the dead. Staff Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmelli, 21, of Ra’anana, came to Israel from Texas, while Max Steinburg, 24, of Be’er Sheva, had roots in Los Angeles.

On Monday, another nine Israeli soldiers were killed, raising the number of IDF dead to 27. It is the highest military toll since the 2006 Lebanon War, the casualties from which helped bring about the downfall of Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Barak.

“We are living through a time filled with worry and anxiety,” said Nava Shoham Solan, chairwoman of the IDF Widows and Orphans Organisation.

“For the past decade we have lived from one military operation to the next, from battle to battle, and there is still no end in sight. We have lost more than 23,000 soldiers in Israel’s wars, and we now find ourselves in the midst of yet another battle. Our War of Independence, it seems, is not yet over.”