Israel-Hamas War: Hostages waved white flag before being shot by Israeli troops

The three Israeli hostages who were killed by Israeli forces in Gaza on Friday had emerged shirtless from a building and were carrying a makeshift white flag when they were shot, the army said on Saturday.

The disturbing details of how they died have created widespread distress in Israel and sparked renewed calls for another temporary truce and an agreement that would allow the release of more hostages. Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevy, chief of staff of the Israeli army, said the three hostages had done “everything possible to make us understand” that they were harmless, including taking off their shirts to show they were not carrying explosives.

However, Israeli troops shot them dead, in an incident that shocked a country already deeply concerned about the fate of the hostages remaining in Gaza. He said the shooting violated the military’s rules of engagement.

“It is prohibited to shoot at those who raise a white flag and try to surrender,” General Halevy said, adding: “The Israel Defense Forces, and I as its commander, are responsible for what happened.”

Protesters in Tel Aviv and relatives of hostages expressed anger over the killings and pressured the government to focus on reaching another hostage-for-prisoners deal with Hamas rather than continuing a large-scale offensive in Gaza.

As outrage grew, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation Saturday night on television and expressed empathy for the families of the slain hostages. “It broke my heart,” he said. “It broke the hearts of the entire country.”

But he made clear that he would not reduce or stop the air and ground campaigns. He called the conflict “a war for our existence” and argued that maintaining military action was necessary to persuade Hamas to release more hostages.

“With all my deep pain, I would like to clarify: military pressure is essential both to return the hostages and to achieve victory over our enemies,” he said.

The Israeli military announced the accidental killings on Friday, hours after saying it had recovered the bodies of three other Israeli hostages in Gaza. The deaths underscore the continued risks to the more than 120 people who Israel says remain in captivity after being kidnapped during the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7.

In a written statement outlining the results of a preliminary investigation, the Israeli military said its soldiers had been operating in Shejaiye, an area of ​​Gaza City that has seen heavy fighting. Earlier this week, at least nine Israeli soldiers were killed during battles in the neighborhood as the army attempted to root out Palestinian militants there.

On Friday, soldiers were on high alert for attempts by Hamas to ambush Israeli forces, possibly in civilian clothes, as they patrolled the area, the army said.

The three hostages emerged, shirtless, from a building dozens of meters from the Israeli soldiers, carrying a stick with a white cloth, the army found in its preliminary investigation. One of the soldiers, believing they posed a threat, opened fire on the three hostages, killing two of them and wounding the third, the initial investigation found.

The third hostage fled inside the building, from where a cry for help was heard in Hebrew. The battalion commander ordered the forces to stop firing. But the wounded hostage later reappeared, after which he was fatally shot, according to the military statement.

In a briefing with reporters, an Israeli military officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with military protocol, said the hostages may have escaped or been abandoned by their captors.

Critics of how Israel has conducted its war in Gaza said the incident reflected how Israel had taken insufficient measures to protect civilians.

“No one batted an eyelid before killing them, and the investigation was launched after they were suspected of being Israeli civilians,” said Sari Bashi, program director at Human Rights Watch. “The Israeli military is right to investigate the apparently illegal attacks against these three men, but it should investigate when Palestinian civilians are also victims and enforce civilian protections.”

The army identified the three men killed on Friday as Yotam Haim and Alon Shamriz, both captured at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, and Samer Talalka, who had been kidnapped at Kibbutz Nir Am, all in southern Israel near the border. with Gaza.

“This is a sad and painful incident for all of us,” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, said Friday. He promised “full transparency” as the military investigates how the tragedy unfolded and said the Israel Defense Forces bore “responsibility for everything that happened.”

Victoria Kim contributed reports.