Relatives and friends of slain soldier, Yair Ashkenazi, who was killed in Gaza, mourn during his funeral in Rehovot, Israel, on Friday. (AFP)
Kfar Azar (Israel), July 25 (Reuters): When 20-year-old Israeli soldier Daniel Pomerantz died in a Hamas ambush in the Gaza Strip, his small village near Tel Aviv decided they finally needed a cemetery to bury their dead.
Surrounded by hundreds of relatives and friends, some sobbing uncontrollably, his flag-draped coffin was lowered into the ground at sunset yesterday, a lone grave in a plot of land hastily marked out by unplanted, baby fir trees.
“When a war ends, we always hope it will be the last one,” said Sara Mozes, who was born in a refugee camps in Germany after the Holocaust horrors of World War II and moved to Israel as a baby in 1948, the year the country was founded.
“But it never ends,” she said, whispering “oh my God” as she saw a phalanx of uniformed soldiers slowly pass, carrying the plain wooden coffin through the crowd.
Pomerantz was one of 33 soldiers who have died so far in the offensive launched by Israel on July 8 in an effort to halt repeated rocket fire by Hamas Islamists, who are battling to end an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip.
That toll is three times that of the last major Israeli ground incursion into the Palestinian territory in 2008/09, with each death appearing only to strengthen public resolve to hammer Hamas, halt rocket salvoes and raze cross-border Gaza tunnels.
“We have to keep going,” said Guy Peled, 20, a high school friend of Pomerantz, himself still doing his mandatory military service. “There can never be peace between us and them.
“They are terrorists and you can’t reason with terrorists.”
With more than 800 Palestinians killed so far in the Israeli assault, many of them civilians, international pressure for a ceasefire is building. Yet many ordinary people here say Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must stay the course.
“I have been surprised by the number of dead soldiers, but a ceasefire now would be a disaster. The shooting would only start up again in another two years,” said Shlomi Nachmias, 53, a former paratrooper and an acquaintance of the Pomerantz family.