Israeli troops mistakenly shot and killed three Israeli hostages during combat with Hamas in northern Gaza on Friday, the Israeli military said. The shooting took place in Shejaiye, a densely populated community that Israeli officials have identified as a Hamas stronghold.
Israeli forces “mistakenly identified three Israeli hostages as a threat,” the military said in a statement. “As a result, the troops fired toward them and they were killed.”
“During searches and checks in the area in which the incident occurred, a suspicion arose over the identities of the deceased,” it added. “Their bodies were transferred to Israeli territory for examination, after which it was confirmed that they were three Israeli hostages.”
The military identified the three as Yotam Haim and Alon Shamriz, who was taken from Kibbutz Kfar Aza during the Hamas-led assault on Israel on Oct. 7; and Samer Talalka, who was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Am.
Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief spokesman for the Israeli military, expressed “deep sorrow” and said the military was investigating.
The incident occurred “in a combat zone in which the troops had engaged” with terrorists in recent days, including Friday, the Israeli authorities said.
Soldiers had encountered what the military said were terrorists without guns and, according to Admiral Hagari, had been involved in situations “in which terrorists tried to deceive our troops and to lure them into a fire trap.”
“A short time after the tragic incident,” Admiral Hagari said, a second engagement occurred “with terrorists near the site of the incident.”
He promised “full transparency” and said that troops were given “lessons” for identifying hostages in the Gaza Strip in an attempt to prevent such mistakes.
The Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which represents those kidnapped on Oct. 7 and their relatives, issued a statements on Friday evening, saying it shared in the “profound grief” of the families.
Mr. Talalka was working at a chicken hatchery near Kibbutz Nir Am on Oct. 7 when he was abducted. He had spoke with his sister on the phone, telling her he was injured by terrorist gunfire, before the call was disconnected, according to the group’s spokeswoman, Liat Bell Sommer. He was “an avid motorcyclist who loved to ride around the countryside,” she said.
Mr. Talalka was from Hura, a Bedouin Arab town in southern Israel. He was one of several Bedouin hostages, members of a low-profile Israeli minority. At least 17 of the roughly 1,200 people who were killed in the attack on Oct. 7 were Bedouins.
Mr. Haim was a drummer who had been slated to perform at a “metal music festival” in Tel Aviv on Oct. 7, Ms. Sommer said.
Mr. Shamriz was a “lover of life” and basketball player and fan who had been accepted to college and was about to start a course of study in computer engineering, Ms. Sommer said.
The office of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, released a statement calling the killings “an unbearable tragedy” and expressing empathy for the hostages’ families along with support for Israeli soldiers “who are devoted to the sacred mission of returning our hostages, even at the cost of their lives.”
“Even on this difficult evening,” the statement said, “we will bind up our wounds, learn the lessons and continue with a supreme effort to return all our hostages home safely.”
Families of hostages have been pressuring Mr. Netanyahu to prioritize the captives and “pay any price” for their release. Some marched last month from Tel Aviv to his office in Jerusalem to protest his handling of the situation, and protests outside his office have continued.
On Friday night in Tel Aviv, hundreds of protesters took to the streets to demand a deal for the immediate return of all the hostages.
Government officials, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in comments this week, have argued that the intense fighting in Gaza will create the conditions for the hostages’ release. But pushback from those who disagree is bound to intensify after Israel’s admission that it had killed hostages in error.
Hostages released in deals with Hamas have thanked protesters for keeping up the pressure on the Israeli government.
Mr. Netanyahu is also under pressure from one of Israel’s staunchest allies, the United States, to fight more surgically and end its ground invasion of Gaza. American officials have also been urging the Israeli government to resume the indirect negotiations with Hamas that led last month to a weeklong pause in the fighting, the release of more than 100 hostages and an increase in humanitarian aid entering Gaza.