The three Israeli hostages who were killed by Israel’s military were waving a white flag when they were shot, according to reports Saturday. Questions abounded in Israel and around the world about how the hostages taken captive by Hamas on Oct. 7 were mistakenly identified as a threat on Friday.
The three men were shirtless and had emerged from a building with a white flag when Israeli troops encountered them in Shejaiya, an area of the Gaza Strip where intense fighting has taken place in recent days, an Israeli military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told news outlets including the Associated Press on Saturday.
They were identified as Yotam Haim, Samer Talalka and Alon Shamriz by the Israel Defense Forces in a statement Friday evening. Haim and Shamriz were kidnapped by Hamas from Kibbutz Kfar Aza while Talalka was taken from Kibbutz Nir Am, both in southern Israel, the IDF said.
The IDF acknowledged that during combat, it had “mistakenly identified 3 Israeli hostages as a threat and as a result, fired toward them and the hostages were killed.”
The military official said two of the hostages were shot and killed immediately, and the third ran back into the building screaming for help in Hebrew, the AP reported. A commander ordered troops to cease their fire, but another round of shots then killed the third hostage.
“This is a difficult and unbearable tragedy,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a post on social media in Hebrew on Friday night, adding that Israel’s goal was to bring all the hostages home safely.
The three hostages killed, in their 20s, were among the about 240 people taken during Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in Israel that also killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. About half the hostages remain in custody in Gaza after a temporary truce, that led to the release of hostages in exchange for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, ended.
More than 18,700 Palestinians have been killed since the war broke out over two months ago, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas and does not distinguish between civilians and combatants. International humanitarian organizations have warned of a crisis in Gaza for civilians who are killed in the bombardment of the territory and facing a shortage of food, water and medicine.
◾ Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv Friday night after the IDF’s announcement it mistakenly killed three hostages, Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported. The demonstrators waved signs with names and pictures of hostages and called for their immediate release.
◾ A communications blackout has cut off the Gaza Strip from the rest of the world, hampering telephone and internet services for at least the fourth time during the war.
◾ Dozens of mourners held funeral prayers Saturday for Samer Abu Daqqa, a Palestinian journalist working as a cameraperson for Al Jazeera, who was killed Friday in an Israeli strike in Khan Younis, a city in southern Gaza.
Further accounts about the killing of the three hostages emerged in Israeli media on Saturday, leading to questions about the IDF troops’ conduct.
The military official who spoke to reporters said the soldiers’ behavior was “against our rules of engagement,” and said their actions were being investigated, the AP reported.
Yediot Ahronot, an Israeli mass-circulation daily news outlet, reported that an investigation into the incident revealed that a sniper identified the hostages as suspects despite the fact they were not armed. The outlet reported that when the third hostage went back into the building and hid, soldiers followed him yelling at him to come out, and then they shot him when he emerged from behind a staircase.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, based on a preliminary investigation, the soldiers who followed the third hostage back into the building believed he was a member of Hamas who was trying to trap them.
Local news outlets also reported that soldiers two days earlier had seen a nearby building that was marked with “SOS” and “Help! Three hostages,” but feared the signals might be a trap.
Contributing: The Associated Press