Thousands Mourn IDF Officer and Soldier Killed in Gaza

Major Eliraz Peretz's best friend: We will avenge your death against those who hurt you.

Thousands attended the funerals on Sunday of Major Eliraz Peretz and Staff Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky, the Israel Defense Forces officer and soldier killed during a shootout with Gaza militants.

Peretz and Sviatkovsky were killed Friday while pursuing a group of Palestinian militants trying to lay mines near the border fence. Two other soldiers were wounded in the incident, and two militants were killed.

Peretz was buried on Sunday morning at the military cemetery on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem, and Sviatkovsky was laid to rest at the military cemetery in his hometown of Rishon Letzion.

Peretz died 12 years after his older brother Uriel was killed in an operation in Lebanon in 1998, having, too, served in the Golani Brigade.

Friends and family gave heartwarming speeches during the funeral, praising Peretz.

"Sometimes I felt that he was so perfect, that he was a guest in this world - a kind of angel," said Rabbi Rafi Peretz, the head of Eliraz's prepatory religious school. "You filled me with pride to be in your company, and you respected men who don't know fear. Uriel and Eliraz - how the heroes have fallen," said Rabbi Peretz.

Rabbi Eliezer Kashtiel, the rabbi from Eliraz's neighborhood, also praised him. "You took in the children of Major Roi Klein as your own. You lived in houses side by side, houses that some may call 'illegal,'" said Rabbi Kashtiel. "You are rising above to meet Uriel, dad, and more friends. You are rising with all your energy and vivaciousness. Pray for your family, and give them strength."

"The skies cried on Eliraz Peretz: The little prince died. An angel departed from this land. Beloved land, you are receiving a precious man," eulogized Peretz's best friend, Yehuda Ish-Shalom. "You had so much to live for. You were in love with Shlomit, the kids, and in Israel. You loved living. Don't you worry, we will avenge your death against those who hurt you." Ish-Shalom concluded his statements with a reading of the poem 'The little prince."

The Brigade Commander of Golani, Colonel Avi Peled, also said goodbye to Peretz. "I want to thank you for what you were - the torch at the head of the camp," said Peled. "Thank you my brother, we will continue your way of commanding soldiers and defending the nation."

As the rumors of Peretz's death began filtering in over the weekend, his mother Miriam locked all the doors of the house as if trying to stave off the bitter news.

"He was a mother's boy," Mrs. Peretz said of Eliraz. "He was a loving boy, a boy who had set up a family of his own in Israel."

The Peretz family had lived in Sharm-el-Sheikh (then Ofira) before the eviction of Sinai in the 1980s. "We suffered the pangs of peace when they took us from our homes, but now Eliraz has paid the price of war," said Mrs. Peretz. "There's no mother, here or on the other side, who wants to lose her children."

"I didn't send him to die. But my boys are always in the lead. He's an officer, and an officer must set an example. If he's called to rescue and fight it's clear he must be first. He went so that I and the rest of the people of Israel can live here. Our boys died for everyone."

As a son in a bereaved family, Eliraz needed his parents' permission to serve in a combat unit. When the permission was given, Mrs. Peretz said that Eliraz wrote to his father that "after years under your care, it's time for me to leave.

"You gave my life flavor and color, and you taught me how to walk the path. Now I'm going to build a home in Israel, like you did, father, and I hope my children will be at least as good as your children are. You agreed to sign this permission for me. I have put you and mother to the test."

Eliraz's father died five years ago, from what his relatives said was a broken heart. The family was hoping to hold its Seder night celebration at a hotel in Ariel.

"They already booked places, they were talking so much about it, they wanted this family gathering so much," said one of the relatives mourning Eliraz, Avi Bar Yosef.

Eliraz, 31, who lived in the settlement of Eli, is survived by his wife Shlomit and four children, the youngest of whom is 3 months old. "He would never let the kids play war games," Bar Yosef said. "He would say that one combatant in the family is enough."

Twenty-one-year-old Staff Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky of Rishon Letzion was supposed to be discharged from the Israel Defense Forces in six months and had already begun to plan a trip to India with his older brother, Arik.

"He loved the army and especially loved being in the Golani," Arik recalled. "Two days ago he told me he finally wasn't a rookie soldier anymore, that he was one of the vets and would no longer do any routine jobs like guarding - just operational activities. He wanted to finish his service with operational work," Arik said.

"We spoke a few days after Operation Cast Lead, and he said it had been frightening, but he was ready to go in again to drive the terrorists away."

Just before leaving for what turned out to be his final operation, Sviatkovsky updated his Facebook page with the status line, "Last Saturday in Gaza." On Saturday, his friends flooded the page with messages, turning it into a virtual memorial