Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sad Ending to Life of Sgt. Alex Assaf

The funeral of Sgt. Alex Assaf, 20, killed by an Israeli mine in Lebanon on Tuesday, has been set for 6 PM. His short life took place in Chernobyl, Kfar Chabad, Bedouin tents, Carmiel and Lebanon.

Alex was one of more than 2,500 Russian children brought to Israel over the course of several years by the Chabad movement. Following the explosion of a nuclear plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986, the Chabad movement embarked on a major campaign to remove Jewish children from the disaster area, and brought them to Israeli in a series of flights.

Alex arrived on the seventh Chabad flight, and was brought to the Israeli town of Kfar Chabad in 1991 at the age of 6. He lived there for five years, until his mother arrived from Russia and took him into her custody. She was unable to care for him properly, however, and lived with him in Bedouin tents and the like. Finally, after he was found abandoned one day, Alex was placed in the care of a loving family from the Galilee city of Carmiel. His adoptive mother, Tziporah, said that he was a very caring boy, and was a loving younger brother to her four other children.

Alex will be buried at 6 PM this evening (Thursday) at the Military Cemetery in Carmiel.

This week, Alex became the 119th Israeli soldier to be killed in the recent war in Lebanon, when his unit was on its way back from an anti-Hizbullah mission in the Har Dov region of southern Lebanon. The unit found itself in a two-decades-old minefield, and two mines went off, killing Alex and wounding three others. The mishap was due to faulty navigation or a misunderstanding of the guidelines; the commander of the unit, who himself was wounded in the same incident, had assumed the position only four days earlier.

An IDF officer later said that the minefield is "part of Israel's defenses against Hizbullah, and appears on our maps." He explained, however, that it is likely that over the years, some of the signs and/or fences around the area had become misplaced or come into disrepair. An investigation is underway.

IDF forces continue to man outposts in southern Lebanon, waiting for an international peacekeeping force to be deployed there. As of now, several countries that had pledged to take part in such a force have not come through, waiting for answers from the UN as to their precise authorities. A final decision may be made on Friday in a meeting between representatives of the countries and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

A total of 140 Katyusha rockets were fired at the Golan Heights during the nearly five weeks of war, causing no direct damage but much damage to tourism.

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