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Hostages were carrying white flag on a stick when Israeli troops mistakenly shot them dead in Gaza, IDF says

3 hostages mistakenly killed were waving white flag
3 hostages mistakenly killed by friendly fire were waving a white flag, Israeli military says 02:53

Three hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza were mistakenly killed by friendly fire, the Israeli military said in a statement Friday. 

During combat operations in Shejaiya, a dense neighborhood in the Gaza City area where fighting has been taking place, the Israeli military said troops "mistakenly identified three Israeli hostages as a threat." Troops fired at the three and they were killed, the Israel Defense Forces said.

On Saturday, the IDF told CBS News that the events occurred during a period of "intense combat," with Hamas militants moving around in what the official described as civilian attire, including sneakers and jeans. There were "a lot of ambushes" and "a lot of deceptions," the IDF official said. 

The hostages emerged "tens of meters from one of our forces positions," the IDF official said. The hostages were not wearing shirts and were waving a white flag on a stick, but two were killed immediately, the official said. The third ran away "crying for help in Hebrew." Though the battalion commander issued a ceasefire order, there was "another burst of fire at" the third hostage, which killed him, the IDF official said. 

"This was against our rules of engagement," the official said, calling the incident "very tragic." 

3 Hamas hostages accidentally shot and killed by Israeli soldiers 02:34

It's not clear if the hostages had been abandoned or if they had escaped their captors, the official said. The IDF official said that there was a building within meters of where the incident took place with "markings of SOS on it." The Israeli military is investigating the building, the official said. 

The Israeli military said Friday that the bodies have been returned to Israel and the identities of the three were confirmed. 

Samer Talalka and Yotam Haim, who were both kidnapped from Kibbutz Kfar Aza during the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel, were identified by the IDF as two of the hostages killed. Haim, 28, recorded video of Hamas attacking the kibbutz before he was kidnapped. Later, the IDF released the name of the third hostage, Alon Shamriz, with his family's approval, after saying earlier that his family did not want it released. Officials said Shamriz, 26, was also kidnapped from Kibbutz Kfar Aza. Talalka was 22 years old. 

The Israeli military said it "began reviewing the incident immediately."

"The IDF emphasizes that this is an active combat zone in which ongoing fighting over the last few days has occurred. Immediate lessons from the event have been learned, which have been passed on to all IDF troops in the field," the military's statement said. "The IDF expresses deep remorse over the tragic incident and sends the families its heartfelt condolences. Our national mission is to locate the missing and return all the hostages home."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement: "When I was updated about the terrible tragedy – it struck me hard. Alon, Samar and Yotam survived hell for 72 days, they were almost one step from freedom, they had touched redemption and then disaster struck. It broke my heart. It broke the entire country's heart. Our heart goes out to the families in their time of deep mourning."

Netanyahu said even in deep sorrow Israel will press forward with military operations, and that continued "military pressure is essential both for returning the hostages and achieving victory over our enemies." 

CBS Saturday Morning reported that the incident led to protests in Israel, with families and supporters of the hostages demanding the government resume talks for another hostage swap with Hamas. Sources told CBS News on Saturday that Mossad director David Barnea met with Qatari and U.S. officials in France last night to discuss diplomacy regarding hostages, but there is no hint of a break in the brutal fighting, which has been a key demand from Hamas before any negotiations take place. 

Bodies of three other hostages were recovered this week, according to previous statements from the Israeli military. The body of 28-year-old Elia Toledano was returned to Israel and positively identified, the IDF said earlier Friday. Toledano had French citizenship, French officials said, and had reportedly been attending the Supernova music festival in southern Israel when it came under attack by Hamas on Oct. 7. On Tuesday, the Israeli military said it recovered the bodies of Eden Zakaria, 27, and Ziv Dado, 36. 

The Israeli government has said there are an estimated 137 hostages still being held by Hamas.

Claire Day contributed reporting.

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