Rules of engagement breached in incident that resulted in death of three hostages, all in their 20s.
Three Israeli hostages killed mistakenly in Gaza by Israeli forces were shirtless and one of them was holding up a white flag, according to an initial inquiry into the incident, a military official has said.
The incident took place in an area of intense combat where Hamas fighters operate in civilian attire and use deception tactics, the Israeli official said on Saturday.
A soldier saw the hostages emerging tens of metres from Israeli forces in the area of Shujayea, the official added.
“They’re all without shirts and they have a stick with a white cloth on it. The soldier feels threatened and opens fire. He declares that they’re terrorists, they [forces] open fire, two are killed immediately,” said the military official.
The third captive was wounded and retreated into a nearby building where he called for help in Hebrew.
“Immediately the battalion commander issues a ceasefire order, but again there’s another burst of fire towards the third figure and he also dies,” said the official. “This was against our rules of engagement.”
Mourning and anger
The military on Friday identified the three as Yotam Haim, 28, and Alon Shamriz, 26, abducted from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, and Samer Talalka, 25, abducted from nearby Kibbutz Nir Am, by Hamas.
About 300 people turned out to mourn Talalka at his funeral on Saturday in his hometown of Hura, in southern Israel, The Associated Press news agency reported.
“We had so many hopes, expectations, that he would come back to us,” his cousin, Alaa Talalka told Israel’s public broadcaster Kan.
“We’re not going to start pointing fingers, who is guilty and who is not. It is just not the time,” Talalka said. “The families are thinking only of how to bring the hostages back alive. This is the time to ask for the war to end.”
They were among about 240 people taken captive during Hamas’s October 7 attacks in Israel, which killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.
Promising to destroy Hamas and bring back the hostages, Israel launched a massive military offensive against the Palestinian group that has left much of the Gaza Strip in ruins. The territory’s Hamas-run government says the war has killed at least 18,800 people, mostly women and children.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the killing of hostages as an “unbearable tragedy”.
Hundreds of people are expected to gather on Saturday in Tel Aviv to call on Netanyahu’s government to secure the release of 129 hostages still held in Gaza. Several returned home during a pause in hostilities which saw the release of captives in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel jails.