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Israelis rush to funerals after deadliest day for troops in Gaza

Hundreds of Israelis hurried past evergreen trees and cyclamen beds in the Mount Herzl military cemetery near Jerusalem on Tuesday to pay their respects to soldiers killed on Israel’s deadliest day for troops in the Gaza war. Twenty-four soldiers were killed on Monday in the Palestinian territory, the biggest single-day loss since ground operations began at the end of October. “I actually don’t know the person who fell personally, but he’s my brother, because we’re one nation and we all feel connected,” said Hallel Weinstein, a 22-year-old student who travelled from Tekoa, an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank about 15 kilometres (nine miles) away. “And when someone in the family gets hurt, we’re all together now.” Like her, many of those who made the trip did not know the soldiers being buried. “We feel united, we feel that we’re one,” said Ray Itzhaki, a 54-year-old venture capitalist. “It’s all about showing the world and showing ourselves what is important: unity.” The crowd squeezed under a gazebo tent, where soldiers wearing yarmulkes and berets stood next to Orthodox women wearing turbans. Packets of tissues were handed out at the entrance, with many in attendance crying and hugging each other. Eulogies for the dead soldiers followed one after the other at the country’s main military cemetery, where national figures including Theodor Herzl, considered the father of modern Zionism, and former prime minister Golda Meir are buried. – Colourful wreaths – Next to the graves lay dirt still fresh from other burials, which took place nearly every two hours on Tuesday. Coffins arrived covered in Israeli flags, adorned with wreaths of colourful chrysanthemums. The Gaza war broke out with Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures. Militants also seized around 250 hostages, with 132 still in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli officials. That number includes the bodies of at least 28 dead hostages, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures. In response, Israel has carried out a relentless offensive that has killed at least 25,490 people in Gaza, around 70 percent of them women, young children and adolescents, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory. Since ground operations started in late October, 221 Israeli soldiers have died, according to the Israeli army. Nine others have also been killed near the border with Lebanon. “When a soldier dies in battle, it’s sad. But I ask you to be happy,” wrote Elkana Wiesel, 35, the second soldier to be buried Tuesday, in a letter left for his loved ones. “Sing a lot, hold hands and support each other.” Jewish melodies and ritual songs were played over the sound of sobbing. “Israel was so important to Elkana, we have to pay tribute to her,” said Nourit Taieb, a former colleague of one of the dead, after more than an hour of prayers. A group of women who knew the mother of Hadar Kapeluk, a 23-year-old soldier from a village south of Jerusalem, left the scene still very emotional. “I had to come to support the soldiers who are protecting our country,” said Adina Nir. “It’s very hard, but here we never abandon our family. We stop whatever we’re doing and we’re there.” Outside, the buses and cars formed a traffic jam as night fell. Passengers hurriedly opened their umbrellas to get to the next funeral.

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