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Israeli army admits it mistakenly shot and killed three hostages

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17 December 2023, The Age / AP, by Najib Jobain, Jack Jeffery and Julia Frankel

Israeli troops have mistakenly shot and killed three hostages in a battletorn neighbourhood of Gaza City, and an Israeli strike killed a Palestinian journalist in the south of the besieged territory.

The deaths underscored the ferocity of Israel’s more than two month-old onslaught in Gaza, as a US envoy was trying to persuade the Israelis to scale back their campaign sooner rather than later.

The hostages were killed in the Gaza City area of Shijaiyah, where troops have been engaged in fierce fighting with Hamas militants in recent days. The soldiers mistakenly identified the three Israelis as a threat and opened fire on them, said the army’s chief spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.

He said it was believed that the three had either fled their captors or been abandoned.

‘‘Perhaps in the last few days, or over the past day, we still don’t know all the details, they reached this area,’’ Hagari said. He said the army expressed ‘‘deep sorrow’’ and was investigating.

Hamas and other militants abducted more than 240 people in their October 7 attack that triggered the war, and the hostages’ plight has dominated public discourse ever since. Their families have led a powerful public campaign calling on the government to do more to bring them home.

Israeli political and military leaders often say freeing all the hostages is their top aim in the war, alongside destroying Hamas.

In seven weeks since ground troops pushed into northern Gaza, troops have not rescued any hostages, though they freed one early in the conflict and have found the bodies of several. Hamas released more than 100 in swaps for Palestinian prisoners last month, and more than 130 are believed to still be in captivity.

The three hostages were identified as three young men who had been abducted from Israeli communities near the Gaza border – 28-year-old Yotam Haim, 25-yearold Samer Al-Talalka and 26-yearold Alon Shamriz.

In southern Gaza, the Al Jazeera television network said an Israeli strike in the city of Khan Younis killed cameraman Samer Abu Daqqa and wounded its chief correspondent in Gaza, Wael Dahdouh. The two were reporting at a school that had been hit by an earlier airstrike when a drone launched a second strike.

Speaking from a hospital bed, Dahdouh told the network that he had managed to walk to an ambulance. But Abu Daqqa lay bleeding in the school and died hours later. An ambulance tried to reach the school to evacuate him but had to turn back because roads were blocked by the rubble of destroyed houses, the network said.

Dahdouh, whose wife and children were killed by an Israeli strike earlier in the war, was wounded in his right arm.

Before Abu Daqqa’s death, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported at least 63 journalists killed in the war, including 56 Palestinians, four Israelis and three Lebanese.

Israel’s offensive, triggered by the unprecedented October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, has flattened much of northern Gaza and driven 80 per cent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million from their homes. Displaced people have squeezed into shelters mainly in the south in a spiralling humanitarian crisis.

The war has killed more than 18,700 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry in Gaza. Thousands more are missing and feared dead beneath the rubble. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

While battered by the Israeli onslaught, Hamas has continued its attacks. On Friday, it fired rockets from Gaza toward central Israel, setting off sirens in Jerusalem for the first time in weeks but causing no injuries. The group’s resilience called into question whether Israel can defeat it without wiping out the entire territory.

Israelis remain strongly supportive of the war and see it as necessary to prevent a repeat of the Hamas attack, in which militants killed around 1200 people, mostly civilians. A total of 116 soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive, which began October 27.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has expressed unease over Israel’s failure to reduce civilian casualties and its plans for the future of Gaza, but the White House continues to offer wholehearted support for Israel with weapons shipments and diplomatic backing.

In meetings with Israeli leaders, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan discussed a timetable for winding down the intense combat.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told Sullivan that it would take months to destroy Hamas, but he did not say whether his estimate referred to the current phase of heavy airstrikes and ground battles.

‘‘There is no contradiction between saying the fight is going to take months and also saying that different phases will take place at different times over those months, including transition from the high-intensity operations to more targeted operations,’’ he said.

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Article source: The Age / AP | Najib Jobain, Jack Jeffery and Julia Frankel | 17.12.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000