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IDF investigates Gaza hostage shootings, bombings

TEL AVIV — The findings of two Israeli investigations into Israel’s offensive on Gaza have shed new light on what is considered one of the most destructive wars of the century, even as Israeli officials say there is no will not let up in action.

The investigation, announced Thursday, says the Israeli army’s shooting of three Israeli hostages trying to escape “could have been avoided” and that a December strike on a Gaza refugee camp caused damage unintentional damage to neighboring buildings – as well as to those who housed them. inside them.

They address the main points of condemnation of the offensive both internationally and nationally: its catastrophic toll in civilians and the government’s inability to do more to protect and ensure the release of the remaining hostages in the Gaza Strip.

IDF killing of three hostages ‘could have been avoided’, investigation finds

Hamas members and allied fighters invaded southern Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostage. A brief pause in fighting saw the release of 110 captives, but more than 100 remain, or have been killed, in Gaza.

Israel’s aggressive response to the attacks – a mission to eradicate Hamas – has killed 21,507 people and injured 55,915 people in the enclave, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Nearly 2 million people have been displaced and struggle daily to access food, water and medical care.

The United States, one of Israel’s last supporters in its offensive, has pressured the country to limit civilian casualties, but Israel remains determined to persevere.

On December 24, Israeli warplanes carried out strikes on the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza. The director of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, Iyad Abu Zaher, said at the time that at least 80 people had been killed in the bombing of a residential building.

The Israeli army said Thursday it had struck two targets “next to which Hamas members were located.” An initial investigation into the strike “found that other buildings near the targets were also hit in the strikes, likely causing unintended harm to other uninvolved civilians.”

An investigation is underway and the IDF has not officially explained why the strike was so destructive. But a military official told Israeli public broadcaster Kan that “the weapons did not match the nature of the attack, which resulted in significant collateral damage.” A US intelligence assessment earlier this month found that nearly half of the munitions used by Israel in Gaza since the start of the war were unguided bombs – which experts say can miss a target up to 30 meters.

But despite international calls to stop or limit the offensive, Israel continues to beat the drum of war. “Anyone who talks about stopping, there is no such thing,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, speaking to soldiers in northern Gaza this week. “We don’t stop. The war will continue until the end, until we end it, no less.

Some families of hostages still in the enclave expressed concern that this fierce commitment to the destruction of Hamas would put their loved ones in danger – a fear validated by the findings of a separate IDF investigation into the murder of three hostages shot dead in the enclave. Gaza by Israeli soldiers.

“We were terrified that our greatest fear would come true,” Lior Peri, whose father, Chaim, 79, is still in Gaza, told the Washington Post.

The investigation found that the Israeli military “failed in its mission to rescue the hostages” and that “the entire chain of command feels responsible” and “regrets this outcome.”

Even though the soldiers “took the appropriate action to the best of their understanding of the event at the time,” the deaths “could have been avoided,” the Israeli military said Thursday. According to the report, soldiers who attacked buildings in Gaza City on December 10 heard calls in Hebrew asking for help. They believed it was a Hamas trap, a tactic the army says it has used in the past.

On December 14, they saw signs reading “SOS” and “save three kidnapped people.” A day later, an IDF soldier shot three people, killing two. All were shirtless, one of them brandishing a white flag. The third reappeared, after commanders called for a ceasefire. But a soldier, who the IDF said had not heard the orders, shot them dead.

Tal Heinrich, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office, said Friday that “this should not have happened, and we have learned difficult lessons and our forces are implementing the lessons we learned.” She did not respond to a question about the Dec. 24 investigation.

Miri Eisen, an IDF reserve colonel and director of the International Counterterrorism Institute at Reichman University, said the two investigations were proof that the IDF held itself accountable. “You have to make sure soldiers understand the magnitude of the actions they are taking,” she said. “When you go beyond what you are allowed to do, you have to challenge yourself.”

The murders of the three hostages outraged a large part of Israeli public opinion. Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv over the weekend and called on Netanyahu to do more to secure the release of the captives. State broadcaster Kan reported that the government’s war cabinet met Thursday evening to discuss a possible new deal to release the hostages, but no real proposal materialized. Hamas said only an end to the fighting would lead to the release of more prisoners.

“There will be no prisoner exchange agreement or negotiations under fire until the end of Israeli aggression,” said Bassem Naim, a member of Hamas’ political bureau based in Doha. in Qatar, in a video statement. “In the meantime, we can say that we are open to any initiative that could end this genocidal Israeli war. »

Strikes on Gaza continued unabated, with one landing Thursday near Kuwait’s Rafah hospital, killing at least 18 people and injuring dozens, the hospital director said. An estimated 100,000 people have fled to the crowded southern city, where living conditions are dire. Some have sought refuge in the Rafah port, but they say they feel no safer here than in central Gaza, from where they fled.

“I escaped death, but I discovered that the situation here was just as perilous,” said Ihab Al-Daya, a resident of central Gaza who fled to the south. “There is no water, no food and nowhere to sleep,” he said. “Shells are constantly being fired at us. »

While the plight of Palestinian civilians relegated to ever-smaller pockets of an already cramped enclave has sparked protests and outrage around the world, the Israeli government faces little pressure domestically to end the assault.

Among Israelis, while government disapproval of the events of October 7 remains high, popular support for the war also remains high. But whole sections of society began to demand an end to hostilities. Hundreds of people gathered in Tel Aviv on Thursday evening for a rally calling for a ceasefire.

“I came to protest against two main things,” said Oren Ben Natan, one of the participants. “First, how our government abandoned 108 hostages still held by Hamas. And second, the massacre in Gaza. The 24-year-old held up a sign reading “There is no security without a political solution” while passers-by across the street shouted abuse at the protesters.

“Beyond the fact that this is a horrible war crime,” Ben Natan said, “it is 100% clear to me that this will not lead us to peace and tranquility, but in the next cycle, which will be more deadly, both for Israelis and Palestinians. .”

Hazem Balousha in Amman and Paul Schemm in London contributed to this report.

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