JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel woke up to the news Tuesday that 21 Israeli Defense Forces reservists died when two buildings exploded in the Central Gaza Strip Monday. It was the largest single loss of life for Israeli soldiers since the Gaza incursion began.

IDF Spokesman Daniel Hagari announced, “The forces were operating in an area between the Israeli communities and Gaza – near the community of Kissufim. The forces were removing structures and terrorist infrastructure in the area, approximately 600 meters from the border.

He added, “The mission is intended to provide the security conditions necessary to allow the residents of southern Israel to return to their homes.”

The soldiers were planting explosives in the buildings to bring them down and were still inside when terrorists fired an RPG, triggering the mines and causing the structures to collapse on top of those inside and nearby.

Hagari said an investigation has ensued.

“This war has a very painful and heavy price; the devoted reservists who rallied to the flag sacrificed everything for the security of Israel so that we all can live here securely,” he stated.

News of the soldiers’ deaths overshadowed earlier reports that the IDF had encircled the key Gaza city of Khan Younis, eliminating dozens of Hamas terrorists as they advanced.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement saying, in part: “Yesterday, we experienced one of the most difficult days since the outbreak of the war. I would like to stand by the dear families of our heroic fighters who fell on the battlefield. On behalf of our heroes, for our very lives, we will not stop fighting until total victory.

The incident took place as Israel faces increasing pressure to end the fighting in Gaza.

The government reportedly submitted a proposal to Hamas through Qatari and Egyptian mediators that included a two-month ceasefire, in exchange for all Israeli hostages.

Hamas has said it won’t accept any deal without a permanent ceasefire.

In Brussels on Monday, the European Union pushed for a two-state solution, despite Israel’s repeated rejections of the plan.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, declared, “Member states made it clear that they understood that the solution for a sustainable, lasting peace that ensures security, not only by military means but by living side by side with its neighbors, would involve the setting up of a Palestinian state.”

Meanwhile, distraught relatives and supporters of the hostages disrupted a Knesset meeting Monday, demanding the government make any deal to release their loved ones.

“What happened today at the Knesset was an expression of immense sorrow and pain that can no longer be contained, and we no longer asking for pity, we’re asking for actions,” said hostage relative Zohar Avigdori.

Netanyahu told families that Hamas has not made any real proposal to secure the release of their loved ones.

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