At 3:00 A.M. on Friday, a few hours after the start of the IDF ground incursion into the Gaza Strip, an exchange of gunfire led to Operation Protective Edge's first IDF fatality. First Sargent Eitan Barak, a 20-year-old fighter from Herzliya in the Nahal Brigade, was mortally wounded in north Gaza, apparently by light arms fire.
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He was evacuated to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, where his death was confirmed. Following his death, the soldier was promoted to the rank of First Sergeant. Two other soldiers were also lightly wounded during the course of the operation in Gaza. The IDF Spokesman’s Office said that he army was investigating whether friendly fire was involved in his death.
Upon the news of his death, family and friends flocked to his family’s home in Herzliya, the city where he grew up and went to school.
On Friday morning, Barak’s friends said that he was an outstanding student whom everyone liked. He completed the marine studies program at Tikhon Hadash (New High School) in Herzliya and was active in sea sports.
Barak served as a squad commander in the Nahal Brigade. People who knew him spoke of his enlistment in the combat unit as a natural choice for him, nourished by his desire to contribute combined with the values he absorbed at home, his friends’ enlistment in combat units and the fact that his father served in the paratroopers.
After the abduction and murder of the three teens in the West Bank, Barak participated in Operation Brother’s Keeper along with the rest of the soldiers in his brigade, an operation that entailed extensive arrests of Hamas militants.
In a short interview in the army magazine "Bamahaneh," Barak described how the soldiers in his company dealt with disturbances when they came to apprehend a wanted man. “We entered the refugee camp on foot to carry out the arrest,” he related.
“The camp itself is built like a maze – lots of narrow alleys a meter-and-a-half wide. In a place like that, controlling the force is more problematic and walking is dangerous since residents throw stones from the roofs when everyone is crowding in. The IDF does not usually enter camps during Ramadan out of respect, but the sensitivity of the situation compelled us."
"Though we went in quietly, people gradually realized that we were there and began organizing until dozens of people had gathered outside the wanted man’s home. They threw stones, broken glass and firebombs, so we employed means for dispersing the demonstrations. In the end, we arrested the suspect.”
Major Gilad Pasternak, Barak’s commander, said in that same interview: “Eitan reacted appropriately in firing as means to disperse the demonstrations and the inhabitants who posed a significant threat to the force,” he related. “During the course of his role in the company, Eitan has been outstanding in the way he deals with his squad.”
Large numbers of IDF ground forces entered the Gaza Strip on Thursday night for the first time since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge. The government decided to deploy ground forces following the collapse of truce negotiations between Israel and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. A few minutes after midnight the diplomatic-security cabinet approved the call-up of an additional 18,000 reservists to increase the options for IDF operations in the Gaza Strip.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the ground operation “will deal with the threat from the tunnels on Israel’s border” and said that “the operation will continue until it achieves its aims – the restoration of security quiet and a harsh blow to the capabilities of Hamas and the other organizations in the Gaza Strip.”
Barak will be laid to rest on Sunday at 5:00 P.M. in the city's military cemetery.