Israel says shooting of hostages ‘should not have occurred,’ but soldiers acted without malice

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Israeli soldiers who fatally shot three hostages spotted running from a building in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaiya violated the rules of engagement but acted without malice, Israel Defense Forces officials said Thursday after releasing details of an internal probe into the incident.

The Dec. 15 incident saw unidentified IDF soldiers shoot at three shirtless people without recognizing that they were hostages trying to escape from Hamas custody. The IDF said two of the hostages were killed immediately while the third continued running.

“The shooting at the hostages should not have occurred — this shooting did not match up to the risk and the situation,” Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, IDF Chief of Staff, said in a statement after the results of the internal inquiry were released. “However, it was carried out under complex circumstances, and in intense combat conditions under a prolonged threat.”

An IDF report on the inquiry did not indicate whether the soldiers who killed the three hostages could face any future charges.

The report said a battalion commander at the scene gave orders to hold fire in order to identify the third shirtless figure. After about 15 minutes, the battalion commander heard someone shout “help” in Hebrew and “they are shooting at me,” according to the report, which said the commander again ordered cease fire and told the figure to come towards him.

“The figure emerged from a building toward the forces. Two soldiers who did not hear the [cease fire] order due to noise from a nearby tank shot at and killed the third hostage,” the investigative report stated.

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The three hostages have been identified as Alom Shamriz, 26; Yotam Haim, 28, and Samar Talalka, 24. All three had been missing since Oct. 7 when they were taken hostage by Hamas militants during the terror group’s rampage into southern Israel that killed at least 1,200 people.

The investigation revealed that one of the hostages was waving a white flag when killed.

The day before the shooting, an Israeli military drone showed that someone had written “SOS” and “Help, 3 hostages” on a building about 200 meters from where the hostages were killed, according to the investigative report.

It said commanders also spotted blue barrels near the building that are commonly packed with explosives intended for advancing Israeli troops.

“Thus, it was suspected as a trap,” the report stated.

The investigation revealed that commanders had information about the possible presence of hostages in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City and even took action to prevent airstrikes on locations where they could have been held. But in the case of the Dec. 15 shooting, there was no intelligence about the building from which Mr. Shamriz, Mr. Haim, and Mr. Talalka were seen running.

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While highly trained special forces troops were on hand to execute any hostage rescue assignments, there was “insufficient awareness” among other IDF personnel about what to do if hostages managed to escape on their own, investigators said.

IDF soldiers involved in the incident experienced complex combat situations in the days preceding the incident and were in a high alert for a threat,” the report stated. “During the battles, they encountered deceptions by the enemy and attempts to draw them into pits and buildings rigged with explosives.”

Gen. Halevi said the IDF failed in its mission to rescue the three hostages and “shares in the grief” of their families. He said it was the responsibility of commanders to ensure that Israeli soldiers were aware of the rules of war.

“In this case, the three hostages were not moving threateningly and held up a white flag; therefore, it was right to confirm the identification before firing,” he said. 

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