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HomeMiddle EastFolks of Israeli squaddies in apprehensive wait as Gaza conflict drags on

Folks of Israeli squaddies in apprehensive wait as Gaza conflict drags on

David, a 61-year-old Israeli, has been on edge ever since his soldier son was deployed to Gaza, where the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack shows little sign of abating.

“As a father, I’m always nervous,” David told AFP at the family’s northern Israel home, just after his son Yonatan, 22, left to join his army unit in Rafah, the focus of recent fighting in the southern Gaza Strip.

The family has asked to use first names only for safety reasons.

David and other relatives of troops in Gaza have been left fearing for their loved ones and contemplating the war’s costs. For some, it is too much.

Yonatan has been among the tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers and reservists sent to Gaza in Israel’s withering military campaign, which the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory says has killed 37,337 people, mostly civilians.

The October 7 attack on southern Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, also mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

The deaths of 11 soldiers announced Saturday, including eight in an explosion near the southern city of Rafah, marked one of the heaviest losses for the Israeli military since the start of the war.

Yonatan’s mother Sharon, 53, said there were “really difficult days where I’m crying all the time”.

But “there is really a limit to how much you can cry,” she said.

To ease their nerves, the couple has joined weekly sessions with other parents.

At the latest meeting on Thursday, platters of watermelon and snacks lined the table as parents held up whiskey glasses for a toast to their loved ones.

– ‘Enough’ –

“L’chaim, to all the soldiers, their families, their parents who support them,” said one attendee, using the Hebrew toast, which means “to life”.

War is “almost like Russian roulette”, said David, who fought during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in the 1980s.

Back then, he was not scared, he said, but now as father he is worried for his son.

Yonatan had narrowly avoided death in Gaza recently, his father said, having just put on his helmet when an explosion rang out and shrapnel hit him.

David added that Yonatan had told him Israel has to be “successful and victorious” for the sake of future generations.

But some parents do not believe the war is worth risking the lives of their children.

Earlier this month, a group of about 30 people rallied outside Defence Minister Yoav Gallant’s home in Amikam, a community north of Tel Aviv, urging an end to the war.

“The parents of soldiers are screaming ‘enough’,” read a message on banners and T-shirts at the small protest.

“My son, he’s a soldier, and he’s doing what his commanders tell him to do,” said a 58-year-old protester, requesting anonymity to express freely her opinions about the conflict.

“The beginning of the war was right, but not anymore,” she added.

At first, she said she had hopes the war would free the hostages taken by Gaza militants on October 7.

But “we are very, very, very far from this goal… This war has to stop.”

Out of 251 hostages seized during the Hamas attack, 116 remain in Gaza including 41 the army says are dead. Seven have been freed alive by Israeli forces, while dozens were released during a one-week truce in November.

– ‘War for nothing’ –

Protester Alon Shirizly, 78, said Israel cannot achieve its stated goal of defeating Hamas by military means.

“Hamas is an ideological movement. You cannot eliminate an ideological movement,” he said.

With demonstrators waving Israeli flags, Lital, who joined the protest out of concern for her son, said: “We are very patriotic, we love this country.”

“The soldiers are also very, very tired and exhausted, and they’re not at their best anymore,” said the woman, also requesting not to use her full name.

Yifat Gadot, 48, whose son is fighting in Gaza, said she has been living in dread.

“Every knock on the door, we are afraid the army is coming to tell us our son has been killed.”

At least 309 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the Gaza campaign since the start of ground operations on October 27, according to the army.

“I personally will not be able to continue living here in Israel if my son dies or gets injured for nothing,” Gadot said.

“And now, the war in Gaza is for nothing.”


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