Three Israeli Soldiers Killed by ‘Friendly’ Fire



[Updates below.] Three soldiers from IDF’s elite Golani Brigade were killed and 24 wounded in northern Gaza tonight when they were accidentally hit by Israeli tank fire, an army spokesman has said. “Three IDF soldiers were killed and one critically wounded and an additional three were severely wounded as the result of a tank shell explosion that was fired in error from an IDF tank during an operation” in northern Gaza, the spokesman said.

“The tank shell hit a structure where the soldiers were located. Twenty additional soldiers were lightly to moderately wounded in the same incident.”

Among those lightly wounded during what was said to be heavy fighting was brigade commander Colonel Avi Peled, who directed evacuation efforts before being pulled out of the area.

Update, 4:15 a.m. IL:
Three soldiers who were killed when an errant tank shell hit their position in the northern Gaza Strip. Another 24 were wounded in the incident. One was in critical condition and another three were in serious condition. The other 20 casualties, who were lightly-to-moderately wounded, in addition to Col. Avi Peled, included Lt.-Col. Oren Cohen.

A force from Golani’s 13th Battalion came under heavy mortar fire in Saja’iya and entered a nearby home for cover. Shortly after that, the errant IDF tank shell hit the home, which collapsed on the force. An earlier suspicion that the home was booby-trapped has been ruled out.

The fighting lasted several hours as IDF artillery pounded the area and helicopters evacuated the wounded. The clashes marked the first time the IDF extended its ground operation into a densely populated area.

Meanwhile, another 12 soldiers were wounded throughout the day in exchanges of fire with Hamas gunmen in the northern Gaza Strip. They were evacuated for medical treatment.

“Gaza is partially cut off,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. “Hamas has been hit hard, but we have not yet reached the objective that we set for ourselves and therefore the operation is continuing.”

Update, 5:45 a.m. IL:
Defense officials have predicted that Operation Cast Lead would be over by the end of the week. “If everything goes as planned the operation could be over in the next 72 hours,” a senior officer said, according to reports.

A top officer said that the forces in Gaza were prepared, if necessary, to enter urban and built-up areas. “This is what the troops have trained for and are designated to do – to fight in densely-populated areas,” the officer said.

Over the past year, all of the units that have been deployed in Gaza have undergone training at the Ground Forces Command’s Urban Training Center near Tze’elim, which has a mock Palestinian city used to train forces to fight in populated areas.

“We built models for them of places inside Gaza,” the officer said. “There are places that replicate city outskirts, the casbah marketplaces and overpopulated refugee camps.”

Forty weapons-smuggling tunnels in the Philadelphi Corridor were bombed today and defense officials said that Hamas is too scared to use the tunnels to smuggle further weaponry.

{Yair Israel}