New details released by the Israeli military about the accidental killing of three Israeli hostages in Gaza City include that there was a gap of 15 minutes between the fatal shootings of the first two hostages and the third and that a commander had urged the third hostage to come out of hiding just before he was fatally shot.
Among other new details were that the lookout soldiers who fired the bullets that killed the third hostage did not hear an order to hold fire.
The Israeli army has been under intense pressure from the families of the hostages and the general public to investigate and explain how the three hostages, who had stripped from the waist up to show they were unarmed and were holding a makeshift white flag, could have been shot by Israeli soldiers. The army has taken full responsibility for the Dec. 15 incident and has said that the soldiers involved in the shooting violated the military’s rules of engagement but did not act with malicious intent.
The latest account, released late on Thursday, consists of a 10-bullet statement, accompanied by photos from the ground and air and a map showing locations of significance in relation to the spot where the hostages were killed. It offers new details and adds perspective to previous disclosures, portraying the soldiers involved as having been engaged in intense and prolonged fighting and as extremely wary of Hamas ruses. Just days before the hostages were shot, two senior Israeli commanders and seven other soldiers were killed in a Hamas ambush in the same area, Shejaiye.
However, the narrative remains incomplete, consisting solely of official Israeli military statements. The hostages and Hamas militants involved are dead, and Israeli soldiers are prohibited from speaking publicly.
These are some details from the new account:
Five days before the hostages were killed, a unit had heard cries for help in a building where they had engaged in a gun battle with fighters. The unit judged the cries to be a ruse and, suspecting the building was booby-trapped, did not search it and instead directed fire from helicopters and tanks toward it. Several Hamas fighters were killed, and the military believes that allowed the hostages to escape.
The hostages are believed to have fled to another building more than half a mile away. A day before they were killed, the military identified signs saying “SOS” and “Help, 3 hostages” in the area. However, the military also spotted blue barrels that Hamas has used to hold explosives and suspected a trap.
The lookout soldier who killed the first two hostages — Alon Shamriz, 26, and Samer Talalka, 24 — was operating with a line of sight obscured by a structure, suggesting that he may have not seen their white flag.
The commanding officers ordered the troops to hold fire so they could identify the third man, who had fled inside of a building. Cries in Hebrew of “Save me!” and “They are shooting at me!” were heard. The officers repeated their orders to the troops to hold their fire and, after about 15 minutes, yelled toward the voice, “Come toward us.”
Lookout soldiers in a different location saw a figure emerge from the building. They had not heard the orders to hold fire because of noise from a nearby tank, and they shot and killed him. He was later identified as Yotam Haim, 28.
In a statement included in the report on Thursday, the Israeli military’s chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Herzl Halevi, said the military “failed in its mission to rescue the hostages.”
“The entire chain of command feels responsible for this difficult event, regrets this outcome, and shares in the grief of the families of the three hostages,” he said, adding, “The shooting at the hostages should not have occurred — this shooting did not match up to the risk and the situation. However, it was carried out under complex circumstances and in intense combat conditions under a prolonged threat.”
He said the operational investigation was carried out rapidly because it was critical to understand what had happened to make sure the mistakes were not repeated. There are still 129 hostages scattered around Gaza, army officials said.