An investigation is underway after a tragic incident on Friday that saw the Israel Defense Forces shoot and kill three Israelis in Gaza who had been taken hostage by Hamas during the group’s October 7 terror attack.
Here’s what we know.
What the Israeli military said happened
The men were killed while waving a white flag in violation of IDF rules of engagement, an IDF official said on Saturday.
The official – who spoke to journalists on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about an ongoing investigation – said the trio emerged shirtless, waving their flag, from a building “tens of meters” away from a group of Israeli troops in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaiya.
At least one soldier felt threatened and opened fire, killing two of the men immediately. The third was wounded and ran back inside the building. The Israeli unit overheard a cry for help in Hebrew, at which time the brigade commander ordered his troops to stop shooting. However, there was another burst of gunfire. The third hostage died later.
It’s unclear which hostage survived initially and when he was killed, the official added.
Shejaiya has been the scene of fierce fighting in recent days, with Israeli forces confronting ambush attempts and attacks that involved suicide bombers or assailants dressed in civilian clothes, according to the IDF.
IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari broke the news of the incident on Friday calling it “a sad and painful incident.”
Hagari said the IDF assumed the three Israelis who were killed had either escaped or been abandoned by their captors due to the fighting in Shejaiya.
The IDF is aware of a building marked “SOS” a few hundred feet from where the hostages were shot to death. Authorities are investigating if there is a connection between it and the captives who were killed on Friday.
What the IDF is doing to prevent similar tragedies
“What we have told our troops is to be extra vigilant and do one more safety check before dealing with kinetics with any threat that they face on the battlefield,” Conricus said, “but it is a very challenging environment that our troops are in.”
The IDF alleged earlier Friday that Hamas has attempted to use dolls and backpacks with speakers playing sounds of crying or children speaking in Hebrew to lure Israeli soldiers into a trap.
Who were the hostages?
All three hostages were young men. Yotam Haim and Alon Shimriz were kidnapped from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, while Samer Talalka was taken near Kibbutz Nir Am.
Talalka, 25, was a member of Israel’s Bedouin community and the eldest of 10 children. He lived in the town of Hura and worked with his father and brothers at a chicken hatchery near Kibbutz Nir Am.
On October 7, he was with his father at the chicken hatchery and told his sister in a phone call that he had been injured by terrorist gunfire, until the call disconnected, according to the Israeli Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum.
Haim, 28, was gifted musician and heavy metal fan. He had played the drums for 20 years and was supposed to perform at a Metal Music Festival in Tel Aviv on October 7th with his band, Persephore. Yotam last spoke with his family that morning. He told them his house had burned down before losing contact with them at 10:44 a.m., soon after which he was kidnapped by Hamas, according to the family forum.
Less is known about Shimriz, but his family, like those of Talalka and Haim, had spoken publicly about their ordeal
Haim’s mother, Iris, had told Israel’s Channel 11 earlier this week that she had faith her son would return even without raising her voice at the government.
“Some people think that if they don’t shout, no one will bring their children back. I tell them: we can do it peacefully and through a respectful dialogue. The children will come back, I have no doubt,” she said.
What’s the reaction been?
Some of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics see the killings as proof that the Israeli government is more concerned with eradicating Hamas than it is with freeing the remaining hostages held by the group – the two key goals of the military operation in Gaza.
Before news of three hostages’ deaths broke, 132 captives were believed to still in Gaza, of whom 112 were thought to still be alive, Israeli authorities said Friday.
Rallies were held on Friday night in Tel Aviv to demand immediate action to bring back the rest of those being held in Gaza. Demonstrators chanted “everyone now” and temporarily blocked a main road that runs through the city, during the three-hour demonstration.
“We want to do everything can to bring back the hostages,” one said “We are asking our government our cabinet to do the best they can to find more solutions because our friends and our family now
Among the demonstrators was Noam Tibon, a retired IDF major general who made headlines for personally driving south on October 7 to rescue his family from Hamas militants.
“The clock is ticking, and it’s against the hostages,” he said.
How the government is responding
Netanyahu has been under pressure domestically, both over his failure to anticipate the attacks and to bring the hostages home, but so far there seems little appetite to remove him with the conflict ongoing.
While the killing of the three hostages has added urgency to the conversations, the source said, it’s unclear if it incident will cost the Netanyahu politically or lead to any major changes in either government or the military.
The longtime Israeli prime minister and other members country’s war cabinet reacted to the killings on social media, offering condolences and vowing to return the hostages home safely.
“This an unbearable tragedy. The whole state of Israel is grieving this evening. My heart goes out to the families aching during their time of immense grief,” the prime minister said. “Even on this difficult evening we shall dress our wounds, learn the lessons and continue carrying this supreme effort to return all our hostages home safely.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called their deaths “a painful incident for every Israeli,” while lawmaker Benny Gantz, a former rival of Netanyahu’s and now part of a wartime coalition government, said his heart was “shattered after learning about this tragedy.”
Both leaders indicated that the war would continue. Gallant said Israel “must remain resilient and continue operating,” while Gantz said the country’s “responsibility is to win the war, and part of that victory would be to return the hostages home.”