Photo Credit: Pixabay / Nason Rathbone

The nation of Israel is grieving the loss of eight young IDF soldiers who were killed in action early Saturday morning in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, in addition to two fighters who were killed in action in northern Gaza on Saturday night.

The eight soldiers were members of a company from the 601st Combat Engineering Battalion and had just completed an operation in the Tal as-Sultan neighborhood of Rafah and were heading to a building to rest when their Namer armored vehicle exploded. The APC burned for about two hours after the explosion; it was very badly damaged, indicating a powerful charge. The vehicle was subsequently towed to a secure area in Gaza under Israeli military control for further investigation to determine exactly what happened.


Two other fighters, Captain (res.) Eitan Koplowitz, 28 years old from Jerusalem, and Sergeant Major (res.) Ilon Weiss, 49 years old from Psagot, were killed in battle Saturday night in northern Gaza. Both were members of the 129th Battalion of the 8th Brigade, and during the battle two other fighters from the battalion were seriously injured.

The identities of the eight soldiers killed in Rafah are as follows:
Captain Wassem Mahmoud, 23, from Beit Jann, a Druze deputy commander in the 601st Combat Engineering Battalion.

Captain Eitan Koplovich, 28, from Jerusalem, a combat officer in the 129th Armored Battalion, 8th Brigade.

Master Sergeant Elon Waiss, 49, from Psagot, a combat soldier in the 129th Armored Battalion, 8th Brigade.

Sergeant Eliyahu Moshe Zimbalist, 21, from Beit Shemesh, a combat soldier in the 601st Battalion, Iron Trails Division (401st).

Sergeant Itay Amar, 19, from Kokhav Yair-Tzur Yigal, a combat soldier in the 601st Battalion, Iron Trails Division (401st).

Staff Sergeant Stanislav Kostarev, 21, from Ashdod, a combat soldier in the 601st Battalion, Iron Trails Division (401st).

Staff Sergeant Or Blumovitz, 20, from Pardes Hanna-Karkur, a combat soldier in the 601st Battalion, Iron Trails Division (401st).

Staff Sergeant Oz Yeshaya Gruber, 20, from Tal Menashe, a combat soldier in the 601st Battalion, Iron Trails Division (401st).

Here’s What Happened
“In the early morning, with the completion of the operation on the northwestern part of the area, infantry, armored and engineering troops from the 401st Brigade entered the area in convoys of armored fighting vehicles in order to position themselves in the contact lines,” IDF Spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters in a briefing late Saturday night.

“According to the information we have at this stage, a powerful explosion occurred in one of the engineering vehicles in the convoy, seemingly caused by an explosive device planted in the area or as a result of anti-tank missile fire. Inside the armored vehicle were the eight soldiers who were killed.

“Following this difficult incident, a team of experts from the Ministry of Defense and the IDF will examine the armored vehicle and all the details of the incident until we reach findings,” he said.

Defense Minister Says ‘Pain is Immense’
“It is with great sorrow that I received the tragic news of eight soldiers who fell during combat in Rafah,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement following the conclusion of the Sabbath.

“The pain that comes with such loss is immense. My heart and my thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the fallen. I stand with the entire nation of Israel in remembering and honoring the heroes who fell while defending their people and their homeland. May their memory be a blessing.”

Netanyahu: ‘Hearts Are Shattered’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also issued a statement late Saturday evening, noting that earlier in the day, Israelis “paid a heart-rending price in our just war in defense of our homeland.

“With deep sorrow, and in heavy mourning, I bow my head together with all citizens of Israel and weep over the fall of our heroic fighters … Our hearts are shattered before this terrible loss. The entire people of Israel embraces the dear families in their most difficult hour of grief. I stand by our brave fighters and commanders, who are imbued with the sacred mission to defeat our enemies and return our hostages.”

Netanyahu urged Israelis to remember why the heroic soldiers fell.

“When the price is so heavy, let us remember what we are fighting for: We are fighting to ensure our existence and our future. We are fighting to return all of our hostages.

“This difficult war was forced upon us by an abhorrent and murderous enemy,” he reminded. “On Simchat Torah, the Hamas monsters invaded our kibbutzim, our communities, our cities, and the festival of young people who desired only good. They butchered, raped, beheaded, burned, dismembered and abducted our brothers and sisters – infants and children, women and men, the young and the old.

“This monstrous enemy has no intention of stopping here,” Netanyahu warned. “Together with the other parts of Iran’s axis of evil, it will continue trying to destroy us. If we do not stop it – it will not stop. Therefore, there is no alternative to victory,” he emphasized.

“Citizens of Israel, do not let anyone distract you from one clear and simple fact: Despite the heavy and unsettling price, we must cling to the goals of the war: The destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities, the return of all of our hostages, making certain that Gaza will never again constitute a threat to Israel and the return of our residents securely to their homes in both the north and the south.

“We are in the midst of a very difficult war. The war is being conducted on several fronts, including the international front. We are ready for many additional challenges.

“It is at this time that we must show our people’s strength of spirit, thanks to which we have overcome all of our enemies. So it will be this time as well,” he said, adding a quote from Jeremiah 30:7: ‘It is a time of trouble for Jacob but out of it he shall be saved.’

“Together we will fight and with God’s help, together we will win.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for, and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.