French Jews mourn French-Israeli soldier killed in Gaza
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Around 300 people paid their last respects on Monday in the city of Lyon to Jordan Bensemhoun, a staff sergeant in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) who moved to Israel from France six years ago.
The 22-year-old soldier died on Sunday during an Israeli offensive in Shejaia, a district east of Gaza City that has seen some of the deadliest violence since the two-week-old conflict erupted.
Bensemhoun’s death in Gaza was announced by the Israeli army and confirmed by his family, who live in France's east-central city of Lyon, on Monday.
US carriers Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said Tuesday they were suspending service between the US and Israel indefinitely. US Airways scrapped its Tel Aviv service Tuesday and said it is monitoring the situation in regards to future flights. The announcements came after a Delta flight from New York headed for Tel Aviv was diverted to Paris following reports of a rocket attack near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.
Air France, Dutch airline KLM, and Lufthansa also announced Tuesday that they have suspended flights to Tel Aviv.
“Everyone remembers him as a model kid,” Rabbi Mehir Cohen, who presided over the remembrance ceremony for Bensemhoun at the city’s small Chaaré Tsédek synagogue on Monday evening, told FRANCE 24.
“He left for Israel at a very young age,” Cohen added. “I didn’t know him very well, but he must have felt that he had an important mission to accomplish.”
The young soldier’s family flew to Israel, where a funeral service will be held on Tuesday afternoon in Ashkelon, the coastal city where he lived.
“We were all shocked when we heard the news,” a person who attended the ceremony in Lyon told the Nouvel Observateur. “Especially because this tragedy comes at a worrying time for the Jewish community in France and in Israel.”
Two US citizens were also among around a dozen IDF soldiers killed in Shejaia on Sunday, but the Israeli army told FRANCE 24 that Bensemhoun had died in a seperate incident from that which claimed the lives of the Americans.
Gaza health officials say more than 580 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died since the Israeli assault on the Hamas-ruled enclave began on July 8. The death toll on the Israeli side has risen to 29 – 25 of them soldiers – as the violence rages on.
A 'lone soldier'
Bensemhoun, the slain French IDF soldier, moved to Israel by himself in 2008 and completed his secondary school studies there.
He joined the IDF two years ago and planned to make a career in the army, according to the French-language Le Monde Juif website.
The French press reported that Bensemhoun was a French national. Contacted by FRANCE 24, the Israeli army confirmed his death in Gaza on Sunday and his planned funeral on Tuesday, but could not confirm his place of birth or nationality.
Bensemhoun listed Lyon, France as his hometown on his Facebook profile.
The staff sergeant was thought to be one of the IDF’s so-called “lone soldiers”: young men and women who grew up outside Israel, but volunteer to take up arms to defend the Jewish state.
There are around 2,000 lone soldiers currently serving in the Israeli military, according to an Israeli official recently interviewed by the Associated Press.