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Israel-Palestine war: Captives killed by soldiers were 'shirtless, held white flags', army says

Families of captives to step up protests demanding a return to the negotiating table with Hamas
Families and supporters of captives held in Gaza hold a demonstration outside the Israeli ministry of defence in Tel Aviv on 15 December 2023 (AFP)
Families and supporters of captives held in Gaza hold a demonstration outside the Israeli Ministry of Defence in Tel Aviv on 15 December 2023 (AFP)

Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Israeli captives in Gaza even though they were shirtless and held white flags, an initial probe by the military has found.

The three men were targeted after exiting a building in the Shujaiya neighbourhood east of Gaza City where heavy combat has been taking place. 

Even though they were shirtless and held a stick with white fabric attached to it, a soldier positioned at the upper floor of a building nearby felt threatened and opened fire at them, according to the preliminary investigation conducted on Saturday.

Two of the men died immediately and the third was wounded and escaped back into the building. 

He was followed by soldiers and a shout for help in Hebrew was heard. Still, a soldier fatally shot him when he appeared again, thinking he was a Hamas fighter trying to lure them into an ambush. 

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The battalion commander later believed the appearance of the man was "unusual" and went to inspect him.

After realising he may have been a captive, the three bodies were taken to Israel for identification and their deaths were pronounced on Friday. 

The army said troops did not follow rules of engagement in the incident, but "understood" the conditions that led to their decision. 

According to Israeli media, soldiers had spotted a building in the area two days earlier that had "Help! Three hostages" written on one of its walls. The building was marked as a possible trap set up by Hamas. 

The army is now investigating if that is where the three men were originally held and if they had been deserted by their guards. 

'Lessons learned'

Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesperson, expressed "deep remorse over the tragic incident" on Friday and said "immediate lessons from the event had been learned".

The captives have been identified as Alon Shamriz, 26, Samer Fuad El-Talalka, 24, and Yotam Haim, 28. Haim and Shamriz were taken from Kibbutz Kfar Azza and Talalka was taken from Hura. 

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The Hamas-led attack on Israel on 7 October resulted in the deaths of over 1,100 people. Around 240 people were taken back to Gaza during the attack. Over 100 of them were released in a prisoner swap deal last month but some 130 remain held in Gaza. 

The Israeli military has killed nearly 19,000 Palestinians in attacks since then, most of them children and women.

Following the military announcement that it killed the three captives on Friday, hundreds of Israeli demonstrators took to the streets demanding a prisoner exchange deal to bring those still held in Gaza. 

Their families held a meeting on Saturday to discuss intensifying their protests, according to Israeli media.

Meanwhile, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani reportedly met with Mossad chief David Barnea to discuss renewing efforts towards a new prisoner swap deal. 

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