The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit reported Thursday that Lt. Col. Salman Habaka, 33, a senior officer in the IDF Armored Corps’ 53rd Battalion, was killed during a battle in northern Gaza on Wednesday.
Habaka is the highest-ranking officer to be killed since the ground offensive in Gaza began, and left behind a wife and a two-year-old son. The total number of IDF casualties since the beginning of the war stands at 333, and since the ground incursion into Gaza began, 18 soldiers have fallen in the battles.
The military additionally reported that two officers and one soldier were seriously injured in battles in northern Gaza, and a female soldier from the Caracal Battalion was seriously injured near the Egyptian border when the jeep she was in overturned in a military operation. The injured soldiers’ families have been notified of their condition.
On the day of Hamas' surprise attack, Lt. Col. Habaka rushed from his home in Yanuh-Jat in northern Israel to join the fighting. "I drove from the Galilee to a base near Tze’elim in order to get the tank and reach the community as quickly as possible to save every soul I could," he recounted. He arrived in Kibbutz Be’eri with two tanks and joined the soldiers fighting there.
"I arrived in Be’eri, saw Col. Barak Hiram, and the first thing he ordered me to do was to fire a tank round into the house," he recounted. "The first question you ask yourself is whether there are civilian hostages in the house. We conducted all the preliminary actions before deciding to fire into the house, but as soon as we fired into the house, we were able to move from house to house and the hostages. The fighting continued until evening, within the kibbutz’s streets."
He said that at that moment "I understood that when people heard the tanks' moving, suddenly they felt a little more secure. What was burned in my memory is the moment I was driving on the roads and understood that I was going to enter an Israeli community where terrorist cowards exploited the holiday and infiltrated Israel to murder, slaughter and abduct elderly people and infants."
Habaka was seen in footage several days before the beginning of the ground offensive in Gaza. "I want to tell all of you that the 53rd Battalion and its tanks, in all their glory and strength, is ready for any challenge," he said. "We’re making preparations to strike the enemy relentlessly."
"I pat each of your backs, and I expect the Israeli people to continue standing united, to continue to be resilient because only together will we know our strength. We have no other choice; it's time to be together, time to unite, time to support each other, and push ourselves toward one goal - victory. We have no other choice. To victory."