Israeli officials concluded Thursday that the soldiers who fired and accidentally killed three hostages in Gaza earlier this month were not justified in the shooting.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) released the findings of an investigation into the shooting that says troops were aware of the possibility that hostages taken by the Palestinian militant group Hamas could be nearby and concluded they failed in their duty to rescue them.
The IDF’s chief of staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said the “shooting at the hostages should not have occurred” and could have been prevented.
“This shooting did not match up to the risk and the situation,” Halevi said in a statement. “However, it was carried out under complex circumstances, and in intense combat conditions under a prolonged threat.”
Halevi stressed soldiers must exercise caution when in a situation without an immediate threat and should try to confirm the identities of people in the firing zone.
IDF soldiers were battling in Shejaiya, a neighborhood of Gaza City, on Dec. 15 when they encountered the hostages, who were shirtless, according to the report.
Two of the hostages emerged from a nearby building waving a white flag, and a third fled from the soldiers. The first two hostages were shot.
The third hostage was heard crying for help in Hebrew, and although a commander gave the order to hold fire, the hostage was also shot when he emerged from a building because a pair of soldiers did not hear the command, according to the investigation.
According to the IDF’s findings, troops had advance knowledge that hostages were in the area, with a note in Hebrew reading “Help” found nearby, along with other signs carrying similar messages for assistance — but they were dismissed by Israeli forces who suspected it may have been a Hamas trap.
The IDF said soldiers worked to prevent strikes in the area because hostages may have been nearby and deployed special teams to extract them if needed.
But there was no intelligence of where specifically the hostages were located, according to the IDF.
The fatal incident led to an outpouring of grief in Israel, which is still reeling from the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that left more than 1,200 dead. Hamas also took some 240 hostages, with about 129 of them still held in Gaza.
IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Israel is working to implement the lessons learned from the fatal accident.
“We are responsible for what happened. We presented the families with the investigation and all the findings that were available to us with transparency while striving for truth, even when it is very hard and painful,” Hagari said in a press briefing Thursday.
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