IDF Left Snoozing Soldier in Gaza Strip

An Israel Defense Forces solider was left in the Gaza Strip last week, alone, for a short period last Thursday night after a Golani Brigade operation. The soldier was in Palestinian territory, some 700 meters west of the boundary fence. The story first appeared on the Ynet internet site, yesterday.

A preliminary investigation at Gaza Division headquarters indicated that the soldier fell asleep when the troops paused for a rest on their way back Thursday night from an operation southeast of Khan Yunis. In checking attendance before setting off again, another soldier answered for his sleeping friend (perhaps out of a desire to speed up the return to Israel). The troops kept moving and noticed the soldier's absence only after performing a recount upon reaching the fence.

Meanwhile, the soldier woke up and discovered he was alone. He fired tracer bullets in the air to draw the attention of Israeli troops in the area. He later used a light stick to aid others to find him.

At that point the army was worried about two possibilities: that Palestinians would kidnap the soldier, or that troops deployed near the fence would mistake him for an armed terrorist and shoot him. A relatively short while later the soldier was located and brought back safely.

Military sources said that Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and GOC Southern Command Yoav Galant take a dim view of the incident, and that punitive measures are expected against officers involved.

This is the second serious mishap involving the Golani Brigade's Battalion 51 since it took up position along the Gaza Strip border two weeks ago. Last week, 10 soldiers from the battalion went AWOL in protest over substandard service conditions. The soldiers were sentenced to military prison terms.

Another act of insubordination occurred in this battalion earlier this year, while training at the Tze'elim base. Nearly 100 soldiers quit a training session because of an argument over seniority rights of veteran soldiers, which they claimed were withheld by the new battalion commander.

Battalion 51 was known in recent years for its tough fighting in the Jenin refugee camp during Operation Defensive Shield, in April 2002, and in south Lebanon last July.

Numerous officers and soldiers from the battalion are expected to receive commendations for their fighting in Lebanon, particularly in the battle over the town of Bint Jbeil, which claimed the lives of eight soldiers.