At least 21 Israeli soldiers were killed and several more were wounded, some of them seriously, in an incident during fighting in the al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, the IDF announced Tuesday morning.
The soldiers were killed when terrorists fired two RPG anti-tank missiles at a unit of reserve soldiers from the 261st Brigade who were preparing an area for demolition, according to Army Radio.
One of the RPGs hit a tank, killing two soldiers. The second RPG hit a building that was pre-rigged with explosives, causing a detonation that collapsed two buildings on dozens of soldiers.
The exact details of the incident are still under investigation.
The site turned into a disaster zone with many soldiers at first buried and missing, and the complicated rescue operations continued well into the night.
The scale of the disaster was such that dozens of firemen were mobilized in the evening and recruited into the IDF in a quick procedure to allow their entry into the combat zone to rescue the victims.
IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Daniel Hagari said the operation to demolish around 10 buildings happened near Kibbutz Kissufim, only about 600 meters (less than a half mile) from the border fence, and was part of an effort to secure the border areas to enable the safe return of Israeli citizens to their homes.
The IDF initially named 17 of the victims in the disaster and released the rest of the names after informing their families.
“War has a heavy and very difficult price,” Hagari said. “The dear reservists sacrificed what is dearest to them so that we can all live here safely.”
"Yesterday was one of the most difficult days since the outbreak of the war," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday afternoon.
"We lost 24 of our best heroic sons who fell in defense of the homeland. Together with the citizens of Israel, I grieve for each one of them. I embrace the families... The IDF is carrying out a thorough inquiry into the tragedy; we must learn the lessons and do everything for the well-being of our soldiers."
"While we bow our heads in memory of our fallen, we are not relenting – even for a moment – in striving for the goal that has no alternative – achieving total victory," Netanyahu added.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog wrote in response to the disaster: “Behind every name is a family whose world has fallen apart, is a family that we take to our hearts with sorrow and pain, and at the same time with pride - over the heroism of this generation.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated: “On this difficult and painful morning, the enemy’s message reaches many homes in Israel; our hearts are with the dear families in their most difficult time. This is a war that will determine the future of Israel for decades to come – the fall of the fighters commands us to achieve the goals of the war.”
“I send my condolences from the bottom of my heart to the families of the victims of the campaign and best wishes for a speedy recovery to the wounded,” Gallant added.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.