Israeli-American reservist killed on Lebanon border after being called up for duty

An Israeli-American reservist has been killed by an anti-tank missile fired by Hezbollah along the Israel-Lebanon border.

Staff Sgt Omer Balva, of Rockland, Maryland, was serving as a platoon commander in the 9203 battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade when he died on Friday, roughly 115 miles from Gaza, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Balva was among 360,000 reservists called up to combat Hamas after terrorist attacks on Israel two weeks ago, leaving more than 1,000 dead.

The 22-year-old grew up in the Maryland suburbs and moved to Israel with his parents in 2019. He was studying for a degree in business administration and economics at Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel.

His reserve infantry unit recalled him while he was visiting the US earlier this month. Funeral services were held in Herzliya on Sunday.

Missiles fired from Lebanon towards Israeli troops on the northern border struck Balva and injured at least three other soldiers, according to IDF. Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the attack.

The US Department of State confirmed Balva’s death.

“We offer our sincerest condolences to the family on their loss,” the State Department said in a statement. “We stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance. Out of respect for the family’s privacy during this difficult time, we have no further comment.”

Israeli forces have clashed with the Lebanese militant group along Israel’s border with Lebanon amid growing concerns of a wider conflict in the region.

Israel launched complete siege of Gaza in the wake of the Hamas attacks, cutting off water, food and fuel supplies as Israeli forces prepare for a ground invasion. Aerial bombardments have killed more than 4,300 people in the occupied Palestinian territory amid a deepening humanitarian crisis that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

IDF says it has targeted several Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon, including a “series of military facilities used by the organization for operational needs” and an anti-tank missile launcher.

“The IDF is ready for all scenarios in the various sectors and will continue to act for the security of Israeli citizens,” the agency said in a statement on Saturday.

Hezbollah has paid “a heavy price” for its attacks, according to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Hezbollah’s deputy leader Sheikh Naim Kassem said the group is “trying to weaken the Israeli enemy and let them know that we are ready” to join fighting should Israel launch its ground invasion of Gaza.

The head of the alumni group for the Maryland school that Balva attended said the community was “completely devastated and heartbroken” by the news of his death.

“Omer was a beloved student who attended our school from age seven through to his high school graduation,” read a statement from Rabbi Mitchel Malkus with Charles E Smith Jewish Day School alumni.

“He was an unabashed advocate for the State of Israel. He is a hero to the State of Israel, the Jewish people, and the school. We mourn his loss,” he added.

In a 2018 presentation that remains on the school’s website, Balva described his family’s history in Israel and said his parents moved to the US in 1996 . He wrote that he had hoped to move to Israel as an adult and raise children there.

The State Department estimates that roughly 500,000 Americans were in Israel at the time of Hamas attacks. The agency has orchestrated the evacuations of US citizens from the region through Ben Gurion Airport.

As many as 600 US citizens remain trapped in Gaza without a clear path out, and the Dtate Department anticipates that Gaza’s sole border crossing into neighbouring Egypt “will remain fluid and unpredictable”.