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WARFARE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

A Soldier's Sacrifice in Lebanon

Israeli soldiers say their major threw himself on a grenade in Bint Jbeil to save their lives.

July 28, 2006|Matthew McAllester | Newsday

JERUSALEM — Two hours before Israeli Maj. Roi Klein's funeral Thursday evening, his best friend sat outside his house, gently shaking his head over what he believed was a split-second act of selflessness.

Klein, according to second-hand accounts conveyed by the friend, Eliezer Kashtiel, threw his body over a hand grenade Wednesday in the Lebanese village of Bint Jbeil, sacrificing his life for the sake of his soldiers.

"There are things you can't explain with reason," said Kashtiel, 36, who teaches in a religious school in Eli, the West Bank settlement he and Klein's family call home. "There are sometimes things inside a man, like greatness -- special feelings you can't understand or absorb."

There were funerals all over the region Thursday, from the West Bank to Jerusalem to the north near the border with Lebanon, where eight Israeli soldiers died with the 31-year-old Klein.

Kashtiel had heard the account of his friend's bravery from friends of the soldiers who said they witnessed it. An army spokeswoman said the military believed the story to be true but that there was no time to investigate.

"Anything that is not absolutely vital to the conflict is going to be put on hold," said Cpl. Davida Kutscher. "I'm sure he will be awarded posthumously, but I don't think it's going to happen right now."

But a legend already was being born in this small country, where stories and rumors spread quickly.

"The two soldiers who were with him ... are injured, and they told friends that the three of them were together," said Kashtiel, who lives next door to the Klein family and studied at the same yeshiva with Klein. "A grenade was thrown, and Roi shouted, 'Grenade!' and jumped on it. The two soldiers are saying Roi saved their lives."

There is a cemetery near Eli, a hilltop settlement mainly peopled with observant Jews, but Klein's family decided he should be buried in the famous Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem, Kashtiel said. Klein's parents were too elderly to make the long journey to Eli, he said. And Klein's wife, Sarah, said her husband's love of Jerusalem would make it the perfect place.

More than a thousand mourners crowded into the cemetery Thursday night as red sunlight filtered through the pine trees over Klein's grave. It would have been his birthday.

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