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IDF investigates its shootings of hostage and heavy bombings in Gaza

Byusanewscart.com

Dec 29, 2023

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TEL AVIV — The findings of two Israeli investigations into the country’s offensive on Gaza have cast new light on what is being termed one of the century’s most destructive wars, even as Israeli officials maintain there will be no let up in action.

The investigations, announced Thursday, said the shooting by the Israel Defense Forces of three Israeli hostages trying to escape “could have been prevented” and that a December strike on a Gaza refugee camp caused unintentional harm to nearby buildings — as well as potentially those sheltering inside of them.

They address the main points of condemnation of the offensive both internationally and domestically: its catastrophic civilian toll and the government’s failure to do more to protect and secure the release of the remaining hostages in the Gaza Strip.

IDF killing of 3 hostages ‘could have been prevented,’ investigation finds

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

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

The United States, one of Israel’s only remaining supporters in its offensive, has put pressure on the country to mitigate civilian deaths, but Israel remains resolved to press on.

On Dec. 24, Israeli fighter jets conducted strikes on central Gaza’s Maghazi refugee camp. Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital Director Iyad Abu Zaher said at the time that at least 80 people were killed in the bombardments of a residential block.

The IDF on Thursday said it struck two targets “adjacent to which Hamas operatives were located.” An initial investigation into the strike “revealed that additional buildings located near the targets were also hit during the strikes, which likely caused unintended harm to additional uninvolved civilians.”

An investigation is underway, and the IDF did not officially expand on why the strike was so destructive. But a military official told Israel’s public broadcaster Kan that “the weaponry did not match the nature of the attack, so extensive collateral damage was caused.” A U.S. intelligence assessment earlier this month found almost half of the munitions Israel had used in Gaza since the war began have been unguided bombs — which experts say can miss a target by up to 100 feet.

But despite international calls to cease or limit the offensive, Israel continues to beat the drums of war. “Whoever talks about stopping — there is no such thing,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to soldiers in northern Gaza this week. “We are not stopping. The war will continue until the end, until we finish it, no less.”

Some families of hostages still in the enclave have expressed concerns that this fierce commitment to the destruction of Hamas will put their loved ones in more danger — a fear validated by the findings of a separate IDF investigation into the killing of three hostages who were shot in Gaza by Israeli soldiers.

“We were terrified to see our greatest fear become a reality,” Lior Peri whose 79-year-old father, Chaim, is still in Gaza said to The Washington Post.

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

While the soldiers “carried out the right action to the best of their understanding of the event at that moment,” the deaths “could have been prevented,” the IDF said Thursday. According to the report, soldiers raiding buildings in Gaza City on Dec. 10 heard calls in Hebrew asking for help. They assessed it to be a Hamas trap, part of tactics the army says the group has used in the past.

On Dec. 14, they saw signs that said “SOS” and “save three kidnapped people.” A day later, an IDF soldier shot at three people, killing two. All were shirtless, one was waving a white flag. The third emerged again, after commanders had called for a cease-fire. But one soldier, who the IDF said didn’t hear the orders, shot and killed them.

Tal Heinrich, a spokeswoman for the prime minister’s office, said Friday that “it should not have happened, and we learned difficult lessons and our forces are implementing the lessons that we learned.” She did not answer a question about the Dec. 24 investigation.

Miri Eisen, a colonel in the IDF reserves and director of the International Institute for Counterterrorism at Reichman University, said both investigations were evidence the IDF was holding itself accountable. “You need to make sure soldiers understand the depth of the actions that they take,” she said. “When you go beyond what you’re allowed to do you need to call yourself out.”

The killings of the three hostages outraged much of the Israeli public. Thousands rallied in Tel Aviv that weekend and called for Netanyahu to do more to secure captives’ releases. Public broadcaster Kan reported that the government’s war cabinet met Thursday night to discuss a possible new hostage release deal, but no real proposal has materialized. Hamas has said only an end to the fighting would lead to the release of more captives.

“There will be no prisoner swap deal nor negotiations under fire until the Israeli aggression ends,” said Bassem Naim, member of the Hamas political bureau based in Doha, Qatar, in a video statement. “Meanwhile, we can say we are open to any initiative that can end this Israeli genocidal war.”

Strikes on Gaza have continued unabated with one landing near Rafah’s Kuwaiti Hospital on Thursday, killing at least 18 people and wounding 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 shelter in Rafah’s harbor, but they say they feel no safer here than central Gaza, from which they fled.

“I escaped death, only to find the situation here equally perilous,” said Ihab Al-Daya, a resident of central Gaza who fled 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 being pushed into smaller and smaller pockets of an already cramped enclave has stirred protests and outrage around the world, the Israeli government is under little pressure domestically to ease off the assault.

Among Israelis, while disapproval of the government over the events of Oct. 7 remains high, so does popular support for the war. But pockets of society have started to call for an end to hostilities. Hundreds gathered Thursday evening in Tel Aviv for a rally calling for a cease-fire.

“I came to protest two main things,” said Oren Ben Natan, one of the attendees. “Firstly, how our government abandoned 108 hostages who are still held by Hamas. And second, the massacre in Gaza.” The 24-year-old held a sign that said “There is no security without a political solution” while onlookers across the street shouted curses at the demonstrators.

“Beyond it being a horrifying war crime,” said Ben Natan, “it is 100 percent clear to me that this will not lead us to peace and quiet, but onto the next round, which will be deadlier, to both Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

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

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