Israeli Official: Killing of 3 Hostages Was Against 'Rules of Engagement'

Men killed in friendly fire had been waving white flag, official adds, raising questions on IDF conduct
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 16, 2023 9:00 AM CST
Israeli Official: 3 Hostages Killed by Friendly Fire Waved White Flag
This undated photo shows Yotam Haim. Israeli troops mistakenly shot Haim and two other hostages to death on Friday in a battle-torn neighborhood of Gaza City.   (Courtesy of the Haim family via AP)

Three Israeli hostages who were mistakenly shot by Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip had been waving a white flag and were shirtless when they were killed, an Israeli military official said Saturday. Anger over the mistaken killings is likely to increase pressure on the Israeli government to renew Qatar-mediated negotiations with Hamas over swapping more captives for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. Hamas has conditioned further releases on Israel halting its punishing air and ground campaign in Gaza, now in its 11th week. The account of how the hostages died also raised questions about the conduct of Israeli ground troops. Palestinians on several occasions reported that Israeli soldiers opened fire as civilians tried to flee to safety, per the AP.

The military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to brief reporters in line with military regulations, said it was likely the hostages had been abandoned by their militant captors or had escaped. The soldiers' behavior was "against our rules of engagement," the official said, adding the shootings are being investigated at the highest level. The three deceased—all young men in their 20s, IDed as Yotam Haim, Samer Al-Talalka, and Alon Shamriz—were killed Friday in the Gaza City area of Shijaiyah, where troops have engaged in fierce fighting with Hamas militants in recent days. The men had been among more than 240 people taken hostage during an unprecedented raid by Hamas into Israel on Oct. 7 in which around 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians. The attack sparked the war.

The military official said the three hostages had emerged from a building close to Israeli soldiers' positions. They were waving a white flag and were shirtless, possibly in an effort to signal they posed no threat. Two were killed immediately, and the third ran back into the building screaming for help in Hebrew. The commander issued an order to cease fire, but another burst of gunfire killed the third man, the official said. Israeli media gave a more detailed account. The mass circulation daily Yedioth Ahronoth said Saturday that, according to an investigation into the incident, a sniper identified the three hostages as suspects when they emerged from the building, despite them not being armed, and shot two of the three.

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Soldiers followed the third when he ran into the building and hid, shouting at him to come out, and at least one soldier shot him when he emerged from a staircase, Yedioth Ahronoth reports. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz gave a similar account based on a preliminary investigation, saying the soldiers who followed the third hostage into the building believed he was a Hamas member trying to pull them into a trap. Israeli political and military leaders often say freeing all the hostages is their top aim in the war, alongside destroying Hamas. However, they argue that their release can only be achieved through military pressure on Hamas, a claim that has sharply divided Israeli public opinion. More here.

(More Israel-Hamas war stories.)

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