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Israeli soldier mistakenly kills 3 hostages

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

We begin this evening in Israel, where the country's military is providing more information about what is being called a grave error. Three Israeli hostages being held in Gaza were killed Friday by Israeli soldiers. According to the Israeli military, the soldiers mistakenly believed the three hostages, who were all men, posed a threat. Meanwhile, in Gaza, which remains under heavy bombardment by Israel, a nearly total communications blackout has been in place.

Let's get the latest from NPR's Carrie Kahn in Tel Aviv. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi.

DETROW: So let's start with the killing of these three hostages by Israeli soldiers. What have you learned about what exactly happened to them?

KAHN: A military spokesman briefed reporters today on what the Army knows of now. The official said the three hostages were shirtless and carrying a stick with a white flag on it when they were confronted by soldiers. He said the hostages were in an area of intense fighting, and they were perceived as a threat. That's what he said, and one soldier fired on all three. Two were killed instantly, and one ran into a building. There were cries in Hebrew for help from the building, and the soldiers were ordered to cease fire. But in unclear circumstances, the third hostage was killed in what the army official told us was a clear violation of Israel's rules of engagement in the investigation continues.

DETROW: I mean, there's something like 100 people still being held hostage. This has understandably been such an emotional topic in Israel. How has the public reacted to this news?

KAHN: The reaction has been swift, and they are angry. A few hours ago, family members spoke to a large crowd gathered at this plaza here in Tel Aviv, and they're demanding that the government do more to bring the hostages home. Here is Ruby Chen. His 19-year-old-son, Itay, was kidnapped and remains captive in Gaza.

RUBY CHEN: The Israeli government needs to be active. They need to put an offer on the table, including prisoners with blood on their hands, to get the hostages back alive.

KAHN: The family members and their supporters have said they will now sit outside a government building here in Tel Aviv, where Israel's war cabinet meets, and they'll do that until the government begins negotiating for the hostages' release. I went to a march last night where angry protesters were venting their frustrations at the news that - of the killings of the hostages, and I heard that again tonight. Everyone I talked to starts off saying they don't blame the soldiers who killed the hostages. There is a lot of sympathy for the soldiers. They blame the Israeli government for not doing enough to bring the hostages home.

DETROW: Anger at the government, sympathy for the soldiers - interesting. Meanwhile, what do you know about what exactly is happening in Gaza today?

KAHN: There continues to be heavy air and ground fighting there. Casualties continue to mount, with the Gaza Health Ministry reporting nearly 19,000 Palestinians now killed since the Israeli campaign began. In the past two days, though, there has been a major communications blackout in Gaza.

We had not heard from NPR's producer Anas Baba there for more than 36 hours. We finally heard from him last night. He is in Rafah in the south, where Israel has told Gazans to go for their safety. And he reported to us seeing airstrikes there and sent us this voice memo from a morgue in the city, where he witnessed a dozen dead bodies.

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: Among those 12 dead bodies that I'm seeing in front of me, there is two children, the families, the relatives, all of them gathered in the morgue. And at the moment, they're saying the farewell and praying for them.

KAHN: Israel's military reports that at least 116 of its soldiers have died in the ground offensive, and it launched that after Hamas invaded southern Israel on October 7 and killed about 1,200 people and took about 240 hostages.

DETROW: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Tel Aviv, thank you so much.

KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Kahn
Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.