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What we know about how 3 Israeli hostages were killed by the IDF

By Tamar Michaelis, Richard Allen Greene and Joshua Berlinger, CNN

Tel Aviv, Israel (CNN) — Israel is reeling from the Israel Defense Forces’ admission that it shot and killed three Israelis in Gaza on Friday. The three had been taken hostage by Hamas during the group’s October 7 terror attack. The IDF says the shooting was against its rules of engagement and that the soldiers involved would face disciplinary procedures.

Here’s what we know.

What the Israeli military said happened

The three men were killed during an IDF operation around the Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaiya on Friday.

On Saturday, an IDF official said the trio had emerged from a building tens of meters away from a group of Israeli troops. They were shirtless and were waving a white flag, according to the official, who spoke to journalists on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about an ongoing investigation.

At least one soldier felt threatened and opened fire, killing two of the men immediately. The third was wounded and ran back inside the building. The Israeli unit overheard a cry for help in Hebrew, at which time the brigade commander ordered his troops to stop shooting. However, there was another burst of gunfire. The third hostage died later. Their shooting while waving a white flag was in violation of IDF rules of engagement, the official added.

It’s unclear which hostage survived initially and when he was killed, the official added.

Israeli soldiers did not anticipate that they would be approached by hostages, but instead thought they would find them either in a building, in a tunnel or handcuffed, according to IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari.

He said at a news conference Saturday that Israel’s military did not have intelligence about the three hostages mistakenly killed, adding: “This is a mistake and a malfunction.”

“Following the tragic incident where three Israeli hostages were mistakenly killed by IDF soldiers, searches were conducted in a building adjacent to where the incident took place,” the IDF said.

In a statement released late Sunday accompanied by pictures, the IDF said the three men had tried to use leftover food to create signs calling for help.

“Signs calling for help, apparently using leftover food were located. Based on a field investigation, it appears that the three hostages were in the building where the signs were located, for some period of time,” the IDF said.

One of the photos shows a white sheet with the words “help” and “three hostages” written on the sheet in Hebrew.

“The incident is under review,” the IDF said, adding “The IDF has notified the families with the additional findings that have been found so far, and will continue to do so.”

Shejaiya has been the scene of fierce fighting in recent days, with Israeli forces confronting ambush attempts and attacks that involved suicide bombers or assailants dressed in civilian clothes, according to the IDF.

Hagari said on Friday that the shooting was “a sad and painful incident.” The IDF assumed the three men had either escaped or been abandoned by their captors due to the fighting in Shejaiya.

What the IDF is doing to prevent similar tragedies

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, told CNN.

“What we have told our troops is to be extra vigilant and do one more safety check before dealing with kinetics with any threat that they face on the battlefield,” Conricus said, “but it is a very challenging environment that our troops are in.”

The IDF alleged earlier Friday that Hamas has attempted to use dolls and backpacks with speakers playing sounds of crying or children speaking in Hebrew to lure Israeli soldiers into a trap.

Who were the hostages?

All three hostages were young men. Yotam Haim and Alon Shimriz were kidnapped from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, while Samer Talalka was taken near Kibbutz Nir Am.

Talalka, 25, was a member of Israel’s Bedouin community and the eldest of 10 children. He lived in the town of Hura and worked with his father and brothers at a chicken hatchery near Kibbutz Nir Am.

On October 7, he was with his father at the chicken hatchery and told his sister in a phone call that he had been injured by terrorist gunfire, until the call disconnected, according to the Israeli Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum.

Haim, 28, was gifted musician and heavy metal fan. He had played the drums for 20 years and was supposed to perform at a Metal Music Festival in Tel Aviv on October 7th with his band, Persephore. Yotam last spoke with his family that morning. He told them his house had burned down before losing contact with them at 10:44 a.m., soon after which he was kidnapped by Hamas, according to the family forum.

Less is known about Shimriz, but his family, like those of Talalka and Haim, had spoken publicly about their ordeal

Haim’s mother, Iris, had told Israel’s Channel 11 earlier this week that she had faith her son would return even without raising her voice at the government.

“Some people think that if they don’t shout, no one will bring their children back. I tell them: we can do it peacefully and through a respectful dialogue. The children will come back, I have no doubt,” she said.

What’s the reaction been?

Some of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s critics see the killings as proof that the Israeli government is more concerned with eradicating Hamas than it is with freeing the remaining hostages held by the group – the two key goals of the military operation in Gaza.

Before news of three hostages’ deaths broke, 132 captives were believed to still in Gaza, of whom 112 were thought to still be alive, Israeli authorities said Friday.

“The ground invasion is killing the hostages,” said Udi Goren, whose cousin was killed by Hamas, told CNN.

Rallies were held on Friday night in Tel Aviv to demand immediate action to bring back the rest of those being held in Gaza. Demonstrators chanted “everyone now” and temporarily blocked a main road that runs through the city, during the three-hour demonstration.

“We want to do everything we can to bring back the hostages,” one said “We are asking our government our cabinet to do the best they can to find more solutions because our friends and our family now

Among the demonstrators was Noam Tibon, a retired IDF major general who made headlines for personally driving south on October 7 to rescue his family from Hamas militants.

Tibon told CNN that the government needs to “announce that to bring back the hostages is the number one priority for this war.

“The clock is ticking, and it’s against the hostages,” he said.

Avi Shimriz, the father of Alon Shimriz, accused Netanyahu of cowardice for failing to call him or visit him to express his condolences.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 13 News, Shimriz said, “The prime minister doesn’t dare to make a call – he hasn’t called – and he wouldn’t come here,” Shimriz said, drawing a contrast with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who he said had called him twice.

Netanyahu did visit Wednesday with the mother of another of the slain hostages, Iris Haim, who lost her son Yotam in the same incident.

Shimriz expressed deep frustration over learning that Israeli soldiers had managed to kill the Hamas fighters holding the three hostages and get so close to gathering intelligence that could possibly have saved them.

“It demonstrates how big the miss is,” he said. “There is a screw-up here, a serious one.”

“The shooter should not have opened fire, and if he is a proper fighter, he should have known that you only pull the trigger once you are certain it is a terrorist,” he added.

He said commanders had failed to tell soldiers there could be hostages in the area and said that photographs of the hostages should have been circulated so soldiers might recognize them.

But he acknowledged that troops in the field faced difficult circumstances.

“I cannot complain to our troops because they have encountered different situations where [Hamas] tried to ambush them and they suffered losses. I don’t want another such incident on my conscience,” he said.

In an audio message released to the IDF unit involved in the shooting released Wednesday, Iris Haim told soldiers “everything that happened is completely not your fault.”

“I wanted to tell you that I love you very much and I embrace you from afar. I know that everything that happened is completely not your fault, it’s nobody’s fault – except the Hamas, may their name and memory be wiped off the face of the earth.”

How the government is responding

Netanyahu has been under pressure domestically, both over his failure to anticipate the attacks and to bring the hostages home, but so far there seems little appetite to remove him with the conflict ongoing.

Mossad Director David Barnea met with Qatar’s prime minister in Europe this weekend to continue discussions about getting hostages released by Hamas, a source familiar with the plans told CNN Sunday.

While the killing of the three hostages has added urgency to the conversations, the source said, it’s unclear if it incident will cost the Netanyahu politically or lead to any major changes in either government or the military.

Speaking for the first time since the killings, the longtime Israeli prime minister on Saturday told the Israeli nation, “We are in a war for our existence.”

Netanyahu said the war “must continue until victory, despite the international pressure and despite the unbearable cost that the war is exacting from us in our fallen sons and daughters.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called their deaths “a painful incident for every Israeli,” while lawmaker Benny Gantz, a former rival of Netanyahu’s and now part of a wartime coalition government, said his heart was “shattered after learning about this tragedy.”

Both leaders indicated that the war would continue. Gallant said Israel “must remain resilient and continue operating,” while Gantz said the country’s “responsibility is to win the war, and part of that victory would be to return the hostages home.”

CNN’s Alex Marquardt, Andrew Carey and David Shortell contributed to this report

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