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Army Launches Probe into Deaths of 4 Soldiers by Friendly Fire

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The army has launched a top-level investigation into a fatal clash in which four Israeli soldiers were killed in southern Lebanon after two paratrooper units mistakenly attacked each other.

The tragic “misunderstanding” occurred early Monday morning in the central sector of the security zone when each Israeli unit mistook the other for a terrorist band and opened fire.

Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Ehud Barak has promised that all possible lessons will be drawn from an investigation into the incident to avoid repeating such mistakes in the future.

Both units appear to have been engaged in parallel operations in a search for gunmen in the rocky and brush-strewn hilly region.

Initial reports said the soldiers apparently were not informed of the presence of another Israeli unit in the area.

A later report by the chief paratroop officer, Brig. Gen. Doron Almog, said one unit had split in two, with one group lying in ambush while the second was moving along the hillside, approaching the ambush from below.

Almog said the two groups clashed, but it was not immediately clear which one had opened fire first, using automatic fire and hand grenades. The incident occurred at 4 a.m., when it was still dark.

Hostile gunmen who were in the area at first held their fire, but were reported to have attacked Israeli reinforcements rushing to the scene to evacuate the wounded and the dead.

One officer and three soldiers were killed. They were identified as Lt. Ezra Asher, 22, of Moshav Tekuma; Sgt. Maj. Geva Ya’acov Mar Chaim, 21, of Jerusalem; Sgt. Ya’acov Gedaliya, 20, of Carmiel; and Sgt. Ehud Halamish, 20, of Tel Aviv.

The two seriously wounded men were Sgt. Assaf Danoun, 21, of Haifa and Staff Sgt. Baruch Nathan, 21, of Haifa.

The commander and two senior members of this same paratrooper unit were killed in the explosion of a roadside bomb in the security zone last month. Two other members of the unit were seriously wounded in that blast.

When news of the accident became known, opposition parties in the Knesset agreed to the government’s request to postpone a planned no-confidence vote.

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee also postponed a scheduled session with the chief of staff, who flew to the scene of the incident to launch the investigation.

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