IDF retrieves body of 5th fallen soldier in Avivim
Released for publication: Fifth soldier from Egoz unit killed in Avivim battle. During18 hours, he was termed ‘missing’ until his body was extricated and returned to Israel Saturday in sensitive rescue misison. Soldier was ‘lone soldier’ who immigrated to Israel and joined army on own initiative
The soldier’s body was found Friday afternoon, although the IDF decided to retrieve it Saturday, fearing that more fighting would erupt in the area. Troops secured the area until the body was extricated to ensure it would not be captured by Hizbullah operatives.
The four fallen soldiers are Staff Sergeant Liran Saadiah, 21, from Kiryat Shmona, Major Benji Hillman, 27, of Raanana, Staff Sergeant Rafanel Muskal, 21, of Mazkeret Batya, and Staff Sergeant Nadav Balua, 21, of Carmiel.
Complex rescue mission
On Saturday night the mission to extricate the body from Marun a-Ras was completed and the fallen soldier was transferred to Israel. During the 18 hours preceding, the soldier was termed “missing,” and the IDF unit for locating missing soldiers worked to decipher aerial photographs to discover his precise location. Drones and other technological means were dispatched over the area to aid in surveillance.
Army sources described the operation as complicated and said it took many hours planning.
According to soldiers in the unit, during the battle the fallen soldier had been aiding in the evacuation of wounded troops, and he had been carrying a stretcher together with colleagues. At a certain point, before they reached the IDF Puma armored vehicle, he asked to be switched for unknown reasons – possibly because he was wounded or did not feel well. According to assessments, the soldier collapsed in the area, and there was a chance he was hit by the Puma vehicle. Only after the wounded were evacuated did it become apparent that he was missing and troops began searching the area.
On Friday his body was located, although forces operating in the area decided not to immediately retrieve it out of concern due to the heavy enemy gunfire. It was decided to deploy soldiers to secure the area and prevent terrorists from attempting to snatch the soldier's body. During that time, the event was barred from publication so that sensitive information would not end up in the hands of Hizbullah.
Difficult battle, heavy gunfire
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz confirmed that in the battle by Avivim some 13 Hizbullah fighters were killed. “We are now weighing what to do with the slain Hizbullah members. We don’t trade in corpses like Hizbullah does, and we will not change our customary conduct.” Halutz noted that the IDF does not kidnap bodies to use as trading chips, “but we can’t leave the bodies scattered in territory which others can’t reach (to collect them) out of human respect,” he added.
The battle in Avivim was one of the most difficult confrontations since the beginning of the operation in Lebanon. “We were under heavy enemy fire - rockets, shells, all types of weapons,” a senior officer related. The entire village, apparently, had become over the years a Hizbullah stronghold, replete with bunkers, cellars and bases. “They turned the population into human shields,” he said.
“Sadly, in this war we will have more casualties. We expect this. We have a strong army that must fight this terror organization, which threatens Israel’s security,” the officer added.