Israeli army says it mistakenly killed three captives held in Gaza

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Israeli soldiers operate next to damaged buildings amid the ongoing ground operation against the Palestinian group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, November 18, 2023 [Handout via Reuters]

The captives were killed during combat with Palestinian fighters after they were erroneously identified as a threat.

The Israeli army has killed three captives held by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza after “mistakenly” identifying them as a threat, according to Israeli military officials.

The military said on Friday that the captives were killed during combat with Palestinian groups in Gaza and expressed its condolences to the families while saying there would be “full transparency” in the investigation into the incident, which is “under review”.

“During combat in Shujayea, the [Israeli army] mistakenly identified three Israeli hostages as a threat. As a result, the troops fired toward them and they were killed,” the army said in a statement.

“The [Israeli army] began reviewing the incident immediately … Immediate lessons from the event have been learned, which have been passed on to all [Israeli army] troops in the field,” it added, expressing “deep remorse over the tragic incident”.

The hostages were identified as three young men who had been abducted from Israeli communities during the Hamas attack on October 7 – 28-year-old Yotam Haim, 25-year-old Samer Al-Talalka and 26-year-old Alon Shamriz.

The army’s chief spokesman, Daniel Hagari, said Israeli troops found the hostages and erroneously identified them as a threat. He said it was believed that the three had either fled their captors or been abandoned.

Israeli troops have engaged in fierce battles with Palestinian fighters in the area in recent days.

About 250 captives were taken into Gaza by Palestinian groups during the October 7 attack on southern Israel, which killed around 1,200 people, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel’s war on Gaza has killed more than 18,700 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, most of them women and children. Thousands more are missing and trapped beneath the rubble.

The Israeli government has repeatedly stated that bringing home all of the hostages is one of its principal aims in the war.

To date, 110 of the captives have been freed, mostly during a seven-day truce last month in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Israel has also repatriated eight bodies, including on Friday those of dual Israeli-French national Elia Toledano, 28, abducted from an electronic music festival, and two 19-year-old soldiers.

The deaths were announced as US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US and Israel were discussing a timetable for scaling back the offensive against Hamas, even though they agree the overall fight will take months.

Sullivan also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the besieged enclave’s postwar future.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has expressed unease over Israel’s failure to reduce civilian casualties and its plans for the future of Gaza, but the White House continues to offer wholehearted support for Israel with weapons shipments and diplomatic backing.

Israeli air raids and shelling continued Friday, including in the southern city of Rafah, part of the shrinking areas of tiny, densely populated Gaza to which Palestinian civilians had been told by Israel to evacuate.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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