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Border policeman dies from Gaza riot shooting injury

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Border policeman St.-Sgt. Barel Shmueli has died on Monday from gunshot wounds inflicted on him by a Palestinian gunman during the Gaza border riots on Saturday, August 21. 

Shmueli was a 21-years-old native of Beer Yaakov, central Israel. 

The border policeman was rushed on Saturday to Soroka-University Medical Center in Beersheba, where he was hospitalized for over a week.

“The medical staff fought for Shmueli’s life as he underwent several surgeries. In spite of all the efforts and due to the complex nature of the injury sustained, we were forced to determine his death,” a statement from Soroka read.

Barel’s family commented on his death on Monday.

“Today, we parted with the child who sacrificed his life to protect us and be the best man he can be. Barel, we may be saying goodbye but we will never forget you. It was a privilege to know you and a shame we didn’t have more time,” the emotional statement read.

Israeli politicians offered their condolences on Monday as news broke of Shmueli’s death.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett released a statement on Monday offering his condolences to Shmueli’s family.

“There are no sufficient words to comfort the grieving family,” Bennett said. “Barel was a fighter in life and a fighter in death. He battled for his life until the very last moment while the entire State of Israel prayed for him.”

“Barel Shmueli died while protecting the homeland and residents of southern Israel. Only a few days ago I prayed for his recovery in his hospital room,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz wrote on Twitter.

“Our hearts are broken,” wrote opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, sending condolences on behalf of him and his wife, Sara. “We prayed for a miracle. Unfortunately, the worst has happened,” he added.

“Barel fought with his friends with determination and heroism in the face of terrorism from Gaza. We will never forget his bravery,” Netanyahu concluded.

“I am saddened and deeply pained by the passing of the Border Police officer Staff Sgt. Barel Shmueli, of blessed memory, who fell in the line of duty,”

“My wife Michal and I embrace his family and share in their heavy grief over the passing of such a beloved, dear son. May his memory be a blessing,”

A sniper in the special Yamas undercover Mistaravim Border Police Unit, according to his father he was set to be discharged from his mandatory service in two months. 

Shmueli’s commander, Chief Superintendent K, told 103FM that he was “a valued, sociable, professional fighter” who had been mentoring new recruits.

Shmueli was shot by a Gazan gunman while he had taken up a firing position on the northern Gaza perimeter fence. He reportedly had switched positions with another officer before the incident happened.  Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli forces during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza City, on August 21, 2021. (credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)

Video of the incident shows that rioters had amassed on the fence, and had flanked his fence firing position. They made several attempts to steal his weapon and struck the barrel of the firearm with clubs, but Shmueli fended off the attacks. A gunman then aimed through the firing slot and fired a pistol at Shmueli several times at point-blank. 

Shmueli was evacuated by helicopter to Beersheba’s Soroka hospital for treatment. On Sunday, Dr. Amit Frenkel, a senior physician in the Soroka General Intensive Care Unit, characterized the injury as complex. 

The officer’s mother told Maariv that on Sunday he “underwent almost 8 hours, 2 surgeries, eye surgery, head surgery,” and that “one eye remains.”

The Shmueli family has criticized security forces and the government, both for their communications with the family and tactical errors.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly called the family while the officer was fighting for his life on Sunday night, however, the family responded harshly to Bennett. 

“He called in the middle of the night and did not even know my son’s name,” Shmueli’s mother said of Bennett in an interview with 103FM radio on Monday. In a recording published by the right-wing activist and rapper The Shadow, Bennett asked Shmueli’s father, “Where is Yossi hospitalized?” — Yossi was the name of the father, not the officer.

Monday morning, the family blasted the IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi and Defense Minister Benny Gantz for not visiting the hospital and demanded answers for why Gazan rioters were able to reach her son’s position and the restrictions placed on the forces.

“A 12-year-old terrorist sniped at him point blank and all this knowing that our fighters knew that it was forbidden to shoot and respond. Why was my son sent? Why? I want an answer,” she told 103FM.In the recording released by The Shadow, Shmueli’s father demanded of Bennett, “They’re getting close to the fence. Where do you live?””Shoot, don’t shoot, what is this you don’t know how to make decisions?” asked the father. “Are you afraid? Who are you afraid of? Wake up you coward, do something. Get them away another kilometer from the field.”

A soldier that was present at the incident told Galatz that security forces were not given permission to shoot, even fire intended to distance the rioters. 

“We were 11 soldiers against 500 Gazans.”

When asked about the force’s readiness for a scenario in which Palestinians try to hit an IDF soldier from point-blank range, Shmueli’s commander said that it was an event that they had prepared for.

The IDF has opened an investigation into the incident.

The military has admitted that it knew that the firing posts were a cause of concern from the 2018-2019 Great Return March riots but did not expect so many people to approach the fence in that manner.

“Having an armed terrorist with a weapon in a crowd is not something that we routinely see in the disturbances,” K said. “It was quite unusual, the boldness and daring of the militants to get as far as the soldier with the weapon.”

The IDF has accused Hamas of organizing the riots and has laid responsibility on the Gazan terrorist organization.

On Saturday, hundreds of Gazans armed with various weapons, including explosive devices, marched on the Israel-Gaza perimeter fence and engaged with Israeli security forces. 

Security forces used rubber bullets and tear gas during the clashes. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reported that over 41 Palestinians were injured in the engagements.

More riots are reportedly planned by Gaza’s militant groups on Wednesday.  

Following Shmueli’s injury, the IDF struck several Hamas positions in Gaza.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett threatened on Sunday that Israel will settle the score with anyone who attacks Israeli soldiers. Anna Ahronheim, Eliav Breur, Simcha Pasko and Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report


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