In a shocking incident in Shejaiya, northern Gaza, Israeli soldiers mistakenly shot and killed three Israeli hostages, having misidentified them as militants.
An Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) military official described the event as “horrific and tragic,” acknowledging a severe lapse in the Israeli military’s rules of engagement.
The victims, identified as Samer Fuad El-Talalka, Yotam Haim, and Alon Shamriz, were attempting to signal their civilian status by waving a makeshift white flag but were fatally misidentified by the soldiers.
All three were shirtless, with one of the figures carrying a stick with a makeshift white flag, according to the investigation.
The soldier, who believed the men moving toward him was an attempt by Hamas to lure IDF soldiers into a trap, immediately opened fire and shouted “terrorists!” to the other forces.
According to the probe, that soldier killed two of the men, while the third man, who was hit and wounded, fled back into the building from which he came.
At that stage, the commander of the battalion, who was in the multi-story building from where the soldier had fired, went outside and instructed the forces to cease shooting.
Simultaneously, troops in the vicinity heard someone — presumably the third hostage — shouting “Help” in Hebrew.
Moments later, this third man emerged from the building he had fled to, and was fatally shot by another soldier.
The battalion commander then realized the unusual nature of the third man’s appearance and discovered he was an Israeli hostage. The three bodies were subsequently transported to Israel for identification.
The officer stated that the soldier who initially fired upon identifying the three men, as well as the soldier who killed the third man, acted against established protocols.
Nonetheless, the IDF acknowledged that the field conditions might have influenced the soldiers’ actions. The senior officer noted that no Palestinian civilians had been identified in Shejaiya in recent days.
The IDF had not anticipated the scenario of hostages moving around in a battle zone.
Following the incident, the IDF immediately issued new protocols to ground troops to address the possibility of more hostages escaping captivity.
IDF’s Chief Spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, earlier stated that soldiers had mistakenly identified the three Israelis, who had been captured on 7 October by the militant group, as a threat and opened fire on them.
He explained that it was believed the three had either fled from their captors or been abandoned.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had previously stated that efforts were being made to minimize civilian casualties in the war in Gaza but admitted to not being successful, blaming this on Hamas.
In an interview with CBS News, Netanyahu said Hamas was firing at Palestinians trying to seek safety and accused them of not caring about Palestinian lives.
Despite Netanyahu’s claims and other Israeli officials’ assurances of efforts to minimize civilian casualties, this incident demonstrates a disconcerting pattern of military engagements where the safety and identification of non-combatants are jeopardized.
Israeli and international rights groups, including B’tselem and Breaking the Silence, have condemned the incident as a breach of International Humanitarian Law, which prohibits shooting individuals who have surrendered.
Baronness Sayeeda Warsi highlighted the broader implications, indicating that such incidents reflect the ongoing struggles faced by Palestinians. “Israeli organisations like Breaking The Silence and others have been warning about IDF tactics for years. Trigger happy, pumped with hatred and out of control – the videos from Gaza, some filmed by IDF soldiers themselves, are public for all of us to see,” she added on X.
Ariel Bernstein, an IDF veteran and member of “Breaking the Silence,” criticized the military’s attempts to shift the blame onto individual soldiers, suggesting systemic issues in the IDF’s approach.
Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi is leading a comprehensive investigation into the incident, indicating the seriousness with which the Israeli military is treating this tragedy.
The incident has sparked widespread public outcry and calls for an immediate ceasefire, with large gatherings in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square. Families of the remaining 129 hostages are demanding an expedited resolution and the safe return of those still in captivity.
Naama Weinberg, a relative of captive Itai Weinberg, poignantly expressed the families’ desperation: “We don’t need dead bodies. We need people alive.”
The revelation that Israeli soldiers shot dead three of the hostages, mistaking them for Hamas fighters, despite their carrying a white flag, has only added to the belief that the current policy isn’t working.
The Israeli government had maintained that only military pressure will force Hamas to release their captives. Yet, it was weeks of careful diplomatic mediation by Qatar and Egypt, backed by the United States, that saw more than a hundred hostages released earlier in the conflict.
Relatives of those still held want those negotiations to be resumed. In an emotional press conference on 16 December, they said time was running out to save those left. They complained that their government wasn’t listening to their demands, with one relative stating it was easier to get a meeting with President Biden than with their own cabinet ministers.
Tagit Tzin, the aunt of Dafna, 15, and Ela Elyakim, 9, who were freed from Gaza last month after more than 50 days in captivity, expressed mounting frustration with the Israeli government. She accused it of “not listening” to the families but instead pushing ahead with military objectives.
Dafna’s and Ela’s father, stepmother, and brother were killed by Hamas militants during their bloody raid on south Israel on 7 October.
“Only a ceasefire deal will bring the hostages out alive and not put our soldiers in danger like this,” she said from a square in Tel Aviv where they were holding protests.
“We want a ceasefire and for everybody to be released. It is the only way for them to be free alive,” she added.
She said her niece Dafna, 15, who was eventually freed in the week-long truce brokered by Qatar, thought she would only return to Israel “in a coffin,” as the bombing was so intense and the buildings around the teenager were collapsing.
“There were people in Hamas’s tunnels with Dafna who were in critical medical condition. They must get out for urgent medical care now. Time has already run out for them.”
“We want the world’s leaders to pressure Qatar – or anyone who can help – to make this ceasefire deal happen, to bring them home. We need to get the world working on this, as we cannot do this by ourselves; we have to get them out.”
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