Israeli troops killed three Israeli hostages in Gaza on Dec. 15 when it mistook their cries for help as a ruse by Hamas militants to draw them into an ambush, the military said on Thursday, concluding that the soldiers acted rightly to the best of their understanding.
On Dec. 15, the military immediately took responsibility for killing the three hostages, who were abducted by militants during Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on towns in southern Israel. They were among 240 people taken hostage by the Palestinian group.
The Israel military published its findings on Thursday and concluded "that there was no malice in the event, and the soldiers carried out the right action to the best of their understanding of the event at that moment."
The statement said that army chief General Herzi Halevi had "emphasized the utmost importance of adhering to standard operating procedures."
"In a situation where there is no immediate threat and the identification is not a clear enemy, there is a need for a moment of examination before firing, given the opportunity," he said.
The killing of the three hostages when they approached Israeli troops in the Shejaiya area of Gaza City, shook Israelis.
The investigation found that, during intense days of fighting, there was no intelligence indicating the hostages were being held in buildings where troops encountered heavy fire.
The military said footage showed the hostages had removed their shirts and that one of them was waving a white flag but they were only identified as hostages after their bodies had been examined.
The hostages' cries for help were also misinterpreted as deception by militants attempting to draw troops into an ambush.
"The IDF failed in its mission to rescue the hostages in this event," Halevi said. "The entire chain of command feels responsible for this difficult event, regrets this outcome, and shares in the grief of the families of the three hostages."
Pressure has been mounting on the Israeli government to broker a deal to release the more than 100 hostages who remain in Gaza following the release of 110 others during a week-long truce in November.
During the truce, Hamas released more than 100 women, children and foreigners it was holding in Gaza in exchange for the release of Palestinian women and teenagers being held in Israeli jails.
Reporting by Emily Rose; editing by Grant McCool and Howard Goller