Israeli Druze commander becomes highest ranking fatality in IDF ground operation

The Israeli army confirms 18 soldiers killed in Gaza ground operation


(JNS) An Israeli Druze tank commander has become the highest-ranking casualty of Israel's ground offensive on Hamas in the Gaza strip.

Lt Col Salman Habaka was killed on Thursday while commanding his tank unit in the northern part of Gaza city.

Habaka had previously been praised in Israel as a hero for being one of the first soldiers to respond to Hamas massacres in Kibbutz Be'eri on October 7.

The 33-year-old lieutenant colonel engaged Hamas militants at the kibbutz, telling journalists: “The moment that is etched in my memory is that I am driving on the roads and realise that I am going to enter an Israeli community where there are cowards who had taken advantage of the holiday to enter the community, who killed, butchered, and kidnapped elderly children and babies”.

On Thursday morning, the IDF announced the deaths of more Israeli soldiers killed in battle with Hamas during the army’s ground operation in Gaza, bringing the total number to 17. 

The soldiers were identified as Lt. Ariel Reich, 24; Cpl. Asif Luger, 21; Staff Sgt. Halel Solomon, 20; Staff Sgt. Erez Mishlovsky, 20; Staff Sgt. Adi Leon, 20; Staff Sgt. Roei Dawi, 20; Sgt. Adi Danan, 20; Cpl. Ido Ovadia, 19; and Cpl. Lior Siminovich, 19.  
Reich and Luger, who served in the 7th Armored Brigade, died when their tank drove over an explosive device. Two other soldiers were seriously wounded by the blast. The other troops, who served in the Givati Infantry Brigade’s Tzabar Battalion, died when their armoured vehicle was struck by a Hamas anti-tank missile.  
Four additional soldiers were wounded in the incident, one seriously. Local authorities also said that 2nd Lt. Pedayah Mark, 22, was killed in action. Mark’s father, Rabbi Michael Mark, was killed in a Palestinian shooting attack in Judea in 2016. Later Wednesday, the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council issued a statement announcing that Staff Sgt. Roi Sargosti was also killed in battle.  
On Wednesday afternoon, the IDF confirmed the deaths of two additional soldiers: Staff Sgt. Itay Yehuda, 20, and Staff Sgt. Shay Arvas, 20. The military also announced that Sgt. First Class (res.) Shalev Zion Sharabi, 22, was killed by mortar fire near the southern community of Be’eri.  
“We are in a difficult war. This will be a long war. We have so many important achievements but also painful losses,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday. “We know that every soldier of ours is an entire world. The entire people of Israel embraces you, the families, from the depth of our heart. We are all with you in your heavy sorrow. 
“Our soldiers have fallen in the most just of wars, the war for our home. I promise the citizens of Israel: We will complete the job, we will continue until victory,” the premier said.  
On Tuesday evening, the military announced the deaths of Staff Sgt. Roei Wolf, 20, and Staff Sgt. Lavi Lipshitz, 20, both of whom served in the Givati Infantry Brigade’s reconnaissance unit.  
“The fall of IDF fighters in battle against Hamas terrorists in Gaza is a hard and painful blow. Our hearts and thoughts are with their dear families,” said Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday. “The significant achievements of the heavy fighting in the depths of the Gaza Strip unfortunately exact a heavy price. We are prepared and ready for a long and complex campaign that requires courage, determination and perseverance. We will win,” he added.  
The IDF continued to hit Hamas assets in Gaza from the land and air overnight Tuesday, striking terrorist cells and command and control centres. One of the latter was located in a multi-story building deliberately located next to a school and medical office, according to the Israeli military. Since the start of the war on October 7, the IDF has hit some 11,000 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. 

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