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Army Leaves Soldier Behind in Gaza

Returning from a successful mission in Gaza in which 5 terrorists were killed, an IDF unit left behind, for an hour, a soldier who fell asleep.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 7/29/2007, 12:59 PM

Returning from a successful mission in Gaza in which five terrorists were killed late last week, an IDF unit left behind a soldier who had fallen asleep. Troops returned to enemy territory and found him after an hour, weak and without a radio device.

The IDF confirmed the essential details on the incident, which were first reported on the Ynet news site based on an email tip. Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi has been alerted, and the IDF is now conducting a high-level investigation.

A senior officer said, "This type of incident must absolutely not happen. There can be no room for taking it easy, not in Israeli territory and certainly not in a place like Gaza which is crawling with terrorists."  Another top commander said the Arab terrorists in Gaza are looking to kidnap another soldier in Gaza, and "it's just a matter of time."

How Did it Happen?
The early Friday morning incident was the result of a series of mistakes - some of them possibly criminal.  Regiment 51 of the elite Golani Brigades, two weeks into its counter-terrorism term of service in Gaza, was on its way out of Gaza, following a successful series of encounters that netted five dead terrorists and a host of weapons and arms.  The pre-departure count of the soldiers did not discover that one soldier was missing, and the force returned across the border into Israel.

Only then was it discovered that he was missing, having apparently fallen asleep. A search was immediately undertaken in the base itself, and then back inside Gaza.  He was soon found there, some 700 meters away from the border fence.

The Ynet report contains several inconsistencies, however, and the IDF investigation is therefore awaited. The report states that "a mistake" occurred in the original count, leading the commanders to believe that all the soldiers were ready to return.  The next sentence, however, states that some soldiers answered in the missing soldier's name because they were rushing to return to Israel.

Furthermore, the report states that the soldier was ultimately found after he fired off shots as a way of making his presence known.  Another paragraph states that he was found because he had turned on his sticklite - a type of one-time flashlight. 

Another question mark that arises from the report is that given the commanders' fears that he might be kidnapped, why did he either shoot off bullets or mark himself with the sticklite?

Investigation Underway
The IDF is currently investigating the grave matter, hoping that it can improve procedures and implement measures to avoid another kidnapping.  At present, one IDF soldier is being held captive by terrorists in Hamas-controlled Gaza: Gilad Shalit. Shalit was taken prisoner over 13 months ago as he was guarding the border.  He has been heard from only once during this period, several weeks ago, and is presumed to be in satisfactory condition.

In addition, two soldiers - Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser - were taken captive on Israel's northern border by Hizbullah terrorists just over a year ago.  To their families' tremendous alarm - though they are putting on a brave front - a Lebanese daily reported over the weekend in the names of German sources that one of the two is apparently dead. Germany has increased its efforts to mediate a deal on the prisoners between Israel and Hizbullah. 

Just last week, Hizbullah chieftain Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah reiterated that he plans to divulge no hint at all as to the wellbeing or whereabouts of the two captives, unless Israel releases Lebanese terrorists from Israeli prison.