An Israeli soldier was killed and another was moderately wounded on Friday in clashes between IDF forces and terrorists along the Israel-Egypt border.
20-year-old Corporal Natanel Yehoshua Yahalomi was killed in the attack, the IDF said.
Initial probe indicates that the terrorist cell approached the border from Sinai and open fire toward IDF soldiers, located some 100 meters away. The soldiers were stationed there to oversee construction work on the border fence.
The first shots fired killed one IDF soldier, who was still undergoing training in the artillery corps. The force then returned fire and killed one of the terrorists.
Additional IDF forces, which were immediately sent to the scene, closed in on the terrorists, killing two more. One of the soldiers was wounded after shots fired at one of the terrorists triggered an explosive belt he was carrying on him. Witnesses at the scene said that the blast was powerful, and that the explosives could have caused significant more damage if placed nearby one of the area's patrol routes.
The two IDF soldiers hurt in the attack were immediately evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva. One of the soldiers, who suffered serious wounds, was pronounced dead upon arrival. The second soldier was moderately hurt in the clashes.
On the terrorists' bodies, the IDF found an RPG rocket-launcher, a number of Russian-made AK-47 rifles, rifle ammunition and machine-gun ammunition. IDF officials said that the quantity of weapons that were found on the terrorists indicate they were planning a large terror attack.
According to the IDF, the terrorists observed the activity of the IDF forces in the area – some of which were tending to a group of African migrants on the border – and used this opportunity to open fire. The IDF force's task on the border was two-fold: To prevent the entrance of African migrants into Israel and to secure the work of construction crews hired by the Defense Ministry to build the border fence. Initial reports indicate that the group of African migrants was joined by a dozen more on Thursday, waiting to be picked up by IDF forces and be transferred into Israel.
A gag order on the information was lifted on Friday afternoon.
Yahalomi's mother, Tova, spoke with her son on the phone on Thursday. His sister, Avital, told Haaretz: "He said he received a package from home that we sent him with cooked food and sweets. He was home two weeks ago and was supposed to come again for Sukkot. He was supposed to stay in the base for Yom Kippur. We sent him the package because we wanted him to feel good there."
The soldier's battalion commander arrived Friday to the family's home. Avital said that he told them Yahalomi tried to study Torah whenever he could. "Even when he arrived home," she said, "it was important to him to study Torah."
"Our impression is that they came prepared for a wide-spread killing spree," IDF Spokesman Yoam Mordechai said, adding that the incident was over in 15 minutes. "The IDF is currently investigating the incident in attempt to track the origin of the terrorist cell that executed the attack," he added, "whether it is based in the Sinai peninsula or a joint operation originating in the Gaza Strip."
The IDF is operating under the assumption that the attack was targeting the IDF force or Defense Ministry personnel who are working on the construction of the border fence, he said. Mordechai also said that after examining the scene, the IDF ruled out the possibility that the objective of the attack was kidnapping.
Arriving at the scene on Friday, IDF GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Rosso said that the terrorists waited for the soldiers to distribute water to the migrants, then struck.
"The western border has changed during the past year," he said. "We are investigating the incident together with the Egyptians. We will reach whoever carried out this terrorist attack and hold them accountable."
The incident occurred near Har Harif in the Ramat Negev Regional Council, an area where Israel has yet to have erected a fence.
Defense officials believe that the construction on the border fence in that area is due to conclude within two months. The officials said that work on that portion of the fence has been delayed since it was a mountainous region which is complex for construction.
In July, Israeli troops shot dead one unarmed man, and wounded another, who were trying to cross into Israel from Egypt.
In June, a terrorist cell crossed the border from Egypt into Israel and detonated an explosive device which ended up killing an Israeli citizen who was working on the construction of the Israel-Egypt border fence, sparking an escalation in the south.
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