IDF troops mistakenly open fire and kill 3 hostages in northern Gaza battlefield

IDF spokesperson: Army responsible for ‘tragic incident’ in which Yotam Haim, Samar Talalka, Alon Shamriz shot dead Friday morning; PM: Unbearable tragedy; Gantz: Heartbroken

(From L-R) Hostages Yotam Haim, Samar Talalka and Alon Lulu Shamriz, who were killed mistakenly by IDF troops in Gaza on December 15, 2023. (Courtesy)
(From L-R) Hostages Yotam Haim, Samar Talalka and Alon Lulu Shamriz, who were killed mistakenly by IDF troops in Gaza on December 15, 2023. (Courtesy)

Israel Defense Force troops mistakenly identified three Israeli hostages in northern Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood as a threat and opened fire at them, killing them, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari announced Friday evening.

Hagari said the IDF bears full responsibility for the “tragic incident,” which took place on Friday morning, “in an area where the soldiers encountered many terrorists, including suicide bombers.”

Hagari named the hostages as Yotam Haim, who was abducted by Hamas from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, and Samar Fouad Talalka, who was abducted from Nir Am. The third hostage was later named as Alon Shamriz, also from Kfar Aza.

The incident occurred in the Gaza neighborhood that has seen some of the heaviest fighting in recent days.

Political leaders were quick to express their shock at the incident but stressed that the IDF would implement the lessons learned and push ahead with their offensive — even as family members of the hostages increased calls to pursue a new ceasefire that could lead to a deal to free their loved ones,

Haim, 28, was a drummer for heavy metal band Persephore. He was last seen in a video he took on the morning of October 7, showing himself in the front door of his Kfar Aza home, before he was abducted to Gaza.

Talalka, 22, who was planning to get married next summer, was working in the Kibbutz Nir Am hatchery, where he often did the weekend shifts, when Hamas terrorists stormed the kibbutz.

Shamriz, 26, a computer engineering student, was abducted from his Kibbutz Kfar Aza home on October 7.

Asked how the hostages were able to escape Hamas captivity, Hagari said the military believes that “the three fled or were abandoned by the terrorists who held them captive” as IDF forces closed in.

This handout photo distributed by the Israel Defense Forces on December 15, 2023, shows troops operating in the Gaza Strip amid the war against Hamas. (Israel Defense Forces)

Shejaiya in northern Gaza has long been seen as a key Hamas stronghold, home to some of its most elite forces and heaviest fortifications. The area where the hostages were killed was close to the scene of a deadly battle on Wednesday where nine soldiers, including two senior commanders, were killed.

The military believes Hamas’s Shejaiya battalion’s command and control is largely disrupted, and the terror group is operating in the area in a less organized manner, with smaller squads. According to Hebrew media reports, Gazan civilians are prohibited from the Shejaiya area, where Hamas often uses unarmed civilians as scouts.

IDF forces have been battling Hamas in the Gaza Strip since late October. War erupted after the terror group’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages, mostly civilians.

In response, Israel vowed to destroy Hamas, and launched a wide-scale offensive in Gaza. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has claimed that more than 18,700 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war. However, the number cannot be independently verified and is believed to include some 7,000 Hamas and Hamas-affiliated terror operatives as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.

It is believed that 132 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 20 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari announces that, in a tragic mistake, IDF troops in northern Gaza shot dead three hostages who were trying to escape their terrorist captors, December 15, 2023. (Screenshot)

In his statement, Hagari said that “after the shooting, during a scan and examination, an immediate suspicion arose regarding the identity of the dead, and their bodies were quickly transferred for examination in Israel, where the hostages were identified.”

“This is a sad and painful event for all of us, and the IDF bears responsibility for everything that happened,” he said.

Hagari said the IDF was already investigating the incident, “which took place in a battle zone where the troops encountered many terrorists in recent days, and today, and fought hard battles,” he said.

“In some cases, suicide bombers were encountered, and also attacks in which terrorists tried to lure our forces and draw them into an ambush. Shortly after the tragic incident, another encounter with terrorists took place near the scene of the incident,” Hagari said.

He said the IDF was still working to “gather the facts and clarify the details of the incident.” Meanwhile, new protocols for identifying hostages were transferred to ground forces, “to do everything to prevent another tragic event like this.”

“The IDF expresses deep sorrow for the disaster and shares in the grief of the families. May their memory be blessed,” Hagari added.

IDF soldiers seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo published on December 12, 2023. (IDF)

Political leaders expressed their sorrow at the incident but vowed to press on.

Lessons will be learned

“Together with the entire people of Israel, I bow my head in deep sorrow and mourn the fall of three of our dear sons who were taken hostage,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “This is an unbearable tragedy. The entire State of Israel mourns this evening. My heart goes out to the grieving families in their difficult time.”

“Even on this difficult evening, we will dress our wounds, learn the necessary lessons and continue with our supreme effort to return all our hostages home safely,” Netanyahu said.

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz wrote on X that he was “heartbroken” over the tragic incident. “My heart goes out to all of the families of the hostages, and also the soldiers who are in the depths of [Gaza] and carrying out a complex and important mission, the likes of which we’ve not seen since the establishment of the state,” he wrote.

“Our responsibility is to win this war, and part of that victory will be bringing the hostages home. We’ll do everything we can to bring them back alive. Everything,” Gantz vowed.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also expressed his sorrow.

“This is a painful incident for every Israeli. We must remain resilient and continue operating — for the hostages, for our citizens and for our soldiers. This evening I spoke with the IDF Chief of the General Staff about the details of this tragic incident in order to learn lessons immediately,” he said.

The mayor of the Bedouin town of Rahat, where Talalka was a resident, mourned the mistaken killing of the hostages.

“Such bitter news: Bedouins and Jews were taken hostage together, managed to flee together in an effort to continue their lives — and ended their lives together in this very tragic event,” Ata Abu Madighem told Army Radio.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called the incident “heartbreaking” and “tragic.”

“I think the Israelis will certainly take a look at this, and I’m sure they will do the forensics and to try to figure out how this happened. That’s certainly the way we would approach a situation like this,” he said during a press briefing.

He declined a request to pass judgement.

“We are mourning with the families who are getting the worst possible news a family can get, and I think we need to keep them foremost in mind,” Kirby said, adding that US President Joe Biden was briefed by his national security team on the incident.

Rockets at Jerusalem

Hours earlier, several rockets fired from Gaza were intercepted in the Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh area, in the first barrage on the capital in over a month.

Eyewitnesses reported at least three interceptions by the Iron Dome rocket defense system, while later reports indicated a total of six intercepts.

ILLUSTRATIVE – The Iron Dome air defense system intercepts a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip as seen from southern Israel, November 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Magen David Adom said one rocket fell in open ground in the Beit Shemesh area, where henhouses sustained damage. Falling shrapnel also hit a high-voltage wire.

Hamas’s military wing claimed responsibility for the barrage, as footage circulated on social media apparently showing one of the rockets landing near a hospital in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, in the West Bank, just north of Jerusalem.

Earlier Friday, the IDF announced that troops operating in Gaza had recovered the bodies of two soldiers and one civilian hostage who were taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7. The military also announced the deaths of three more soldiers as heavy fighting continued in the Strip, pushing the toll of fallen troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 119.

In a visit with troops in Gaza, IDF intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva said that Israel “must continue to pressure the enemy, continue to kill the enemy, continue to destroy the enemy. The campaign has multiple theaters and has months to go.”

Head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva holds an operational assessment in the Gaza Strip, December 15, 2023 (IDF)

While in the field, Haliva held an operational assessment along with several top officers in the field, including division and brigade commanders.

“The maneuvering [military] machine, with its many parts — the air force, which is doing incredible work, the navy, the intelligence — is a fearsome military mechanism,” he told the senior officials.

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