Israeli soldiers shot and killed three Israeli hostages in northern Gaza after misidentifying them as threats, the Israel Defense Forces said.
“During combat in Shejaiya, the IDF mistakenly identified three Israeli hostages as a threat. As a result, the troops fired toward them and they were killed,” IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a news briefing on Friday.
“During searches and checks in the area in which the incident occurred, a suspicion arose over the identities of the deceased,” Hagari added. “Their bodies were transferred to Israeli territory for examination, after which it was confirmed that they were three Israeli hostages.”
The hostages have been identified as Yotam Haim and Alon Shimriz, who were kidnapped from Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7, and Samer Talalka, who was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Am on the same day.
The IDF began reviewing the incident immediately, Hagari said.
Hagari said the IDF believes the three men either escaped their captors or had been “left behind” because of the fighting in the area.
Asked whether the three men put their hands up or shouted in Hebrew, Hagari said the military is still “reviewing the details” and promised “full transparency about all the details of this incident.”
Hagari said the incident occurred “in an area where our troops have confronted many terrorists over the past few days, even today, and engaged in heavy fighting.” He said Israeli soldiers had recently faced attacks in which fighters “tried to mislead our forces and fire-trap them,” as well as “suicide terrorists” who did not carry weapons.
Israel is still gathering facts about the fatal shooting, Hagari said. “Lessons and relevant instructions concerning the identification of hostages in battle zones have been immediately communicated to all IDF forces across the whole Gaza Strip,” he said.
Before news of three hostages’ deaths was announced, Israel had said Friday that they believe 132 hostages remained in Gaza, of whom 112 were thought to still be alive.
More than 100 hostages were released by Hamas last month after a hard-fought truce that also saw the release of 240 Palestinian prisoners in Israel. But as negotiations around the release of the hostages broke down – with each side blaming the other for the failure – fighting resumed in Gaza.
More dangerous, close-quarters operations are taking place throughout the battered enclave, including in Shejaiya and Jabalya in the north, and further south in Khan Younis.
Several dozen protestors briefly blocked a major thoroughfare outside of the Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv Friday night in a demonstration called by families of hostages following the news of the shooting.
The protestors, shouting “everyone now,” said they were demanding immediate action to secure the release of the remaining Israeli hostages held in Gaza.
What we know about the hostages
Talalka, 25, was the eldest of 10 children, according to the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum. He lived in Hura and worked with his fathers and brothers at a chicken hatchery near Kibbutz Nir Am, the forum said.
“Samer was an avid motorcyclist who loved to ride around the countryside and spend time with friends,” the forum said.
He had been at the hatchery on October 7 with his father when the terror attack began, telling his sister in a phone call that he had been injured by gunfire, before the call disconnected, the group said.
Fellow captive Haim was 28, according to the same group. The forum said he was a gifted musician and drummer, and a devotee of metal music.
Haim was able to speak with his family and tell them that his house had burned down before he was kidnapped on October 7, the group said.
He leaves behind two parents, a brother, and a sister.
IDF to take ‘additional caution’
Israeli soldiers in Gaza are now being told to “exercise additional caution” when encountering people in civilian clothes following the hostages’ accidental killing, Jonathan Conricus, another IDF spokesman, said.
He added that many of the combatants attacking IDF forces in Gaza “have been dressed in civilian clothes.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday described the hostages’ deaths as an “unbearable tragedy” and said that Israel will “learn the lessons” of the accident.
“Along with all the people of Israel, I bow my head with deep sorrow and mourn the death of three of our dear sons who were kidnapped,” he said.
“The whole state of Israel is grieving this evening,” he continued. “My heart goes out to the families aching during their time of immense grief. I would like to send strength to our brave soldiers focusing on this sacred mission of returning our hostages, even with the price of sacrificing their own lives.”
Benny Gantz, a key member of Israel’s war cabinet, said his “heart is shattered” by news of the shooting in a statement on X.
“The pain accompanying the campaign is now even bigger due to this difficult incident,” he said.
This story has been updated with additional details and to reflect that the IDF has corrected the spelling of Alon Shimriz.