South Africa

Israel mourns three Gaza hostages mistakenly killed

Israel on Saturday mourned the deaths of three Gaza hostages killed when troops mistook them for a threat, with the military expressing remorse over a “tragic” incident that sparked protests in Tel Aviv.

The Israeli army said Yotam Haim, Alon Shamriz and Samer El-Talalqa – all aged in their twenties – were shot during operations in a neighbourhood of Gaza City.

The trio were among an estimated 240 people taken hostage during Hamas’s October 7 raids into Israel, which also killed an estimated 1,200 people.

“During combat in Shejaiya, the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) mistakenly identified three Israeli hostages as a threat and as a result, fired toward them and the hostages were killed,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari said.

“The IDF expresses deep sorrow regarding this disaster and shares in the grief of the families.”

Their bodies were transferred to Israel, and on examination were confirmed as being Haim, a 28-year-old heavy metal drummer, 25-year-old Bedouin man El-Talalqa and Shamriz, aged 26.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described their deaths as an “unbearable tragedy”.

“All of Israel is grieving their loss,” he said, while the White House called the incident a “tragic mistake”.

As news of the incident spread late Friday, hundreds of people gathered at Israel’s ministry of defence in Tel Aviv to call on Netanyahu’s government to secure the release of 129 hostages still being held in Hamas-ruled territory.

The demonstrators waved Israeli flags and brandished placards.

“Every day, a hostage dies,” read one message.

“I am dying of fear,” said Merav Svirsky, sister of Hamas-held hostage Itay Svirsky.

“We demand a deal now.”

In November, a short-lived truce saw more than 100 hostages freed in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

That deal has since lapsed and fighting has resumed.

‘More careful’

But the hostages’ deaths have heightened already fierce scrutiny of how Israel is conducting its ground and air assault in Gaza.

In retaliation for the October attacks, Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas and bring the hostages home.

But his tactics have brought searing criticism from neighbouring Muslim states, and deep unease among allies in Europe, the United States and beyond.

With Hamas authorities claiming the war has now killed 18,800 people, the White House, which provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel, voiced growing concern over civilian casualties.

“I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives – not stop going after Hamas, but be more careful,” said US President Joe Biden.

Biden’s top security advisor Jake Sullivan was visiting Israel and the West Bank to drive that message home.

“We do not believe that it makes sense for Israel, or is right for Israel, to… reoccupy Gaza over the long term,” Sullivan said after meeting Israeli leaders.

News platform Axios reported that the director of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, David Barnea, was due to meet this weekend in an unspecified location in Europe with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

Axios said the officials would discuss resuming negotiations for a deal to secure the release of the remaining hostages.

In the Gaza Strip, fierce fighting continued, with Hamas claiming they had blown up a house containing Israeli soldiers in the southern city of Khan Yunis.

News channel Al Jazeera said that one of its journalists, Samer Abudaqa, had been killed and another, Wael Dahdouh, had been wounded by “shrapnel from an Israeli missile attack” in Khan Yunis.

More than 60 journalists and media staff have died since the war began, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“We were reporting, we were filming, we had finished and we were with the civil defence, but when we were on the way back, they hit us with a missile,” said Dahdouh, who lost his wife, two children and grandchild earlier in the war.

‘Good news’

In the face of growing international pressure, Israel announced a “temporary measure” allowing aid to be delivered directly to Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

Since the war began, a trickle of aid has squeezed into Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

Aid agencies have said the volume is nothing like enough to help the estimated 1.9 million Gazans displaced by the war.

US National Security Advisor Sullivan called the decision to reopen Kerem Shalom as a “significant step”.

The United States hopes “this new opening will ease congestion and help facilitate the delivery of life-saving assistance”, Sullivan added.

A World Health Organization representative said the announcement was “very good news”.

Sullivan also travelled to the West Bank to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who said Gaza must remain an “integral part” of a future Palestinian state.

Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has partial administrative control in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but is deeply unpopular with Palestinians and has been further weakened by the war.

However, Washington still hopes that it can resume control of Gaza as part of a renewed push for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – a solution that Netanyahu has resolutely opposed.

The conflict has appeared to push any peace deal further out of view.

In Jerusalem, for the first time in weeks, sirens warned of incoming rockets from Gaza.

Residents rushed to safety, and the rockets all hit open ground or were intercepted by air defences, the army said.

Multiple Western governments issued a joint statement demanding that Israel “take concrete steps to halt unprecedented violence by Israeli settlers” in the West Bank.

Attacks by settlers since early October have killed eight Palestinians and wounded 83, they said.

Israel’s police force said it had suspended several officers after they severely assaulted a journalist for Turkish news agency Anadolu as he was trying to take photos of Palestinians praying in annexed east Jerusalem.

Red Sea shipping disrupted

The war continues to be felt across the Middle East.

Global shipping lines Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd announced they were halting voyages through the Red Sea following attacks on vessels by Yemeni rebels allied with Hamas.

Yemen’s Huthi rebels struck a cargo ship in the Red Sea on Friday, causing a fire on deck, the latest in a spate of near-daily attacks in the commercially vital waterway.

The rebels later said they fired missiles at two other ships in the Red Sea.