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The fallout after Israeli soldiers killed three Israeli hostages

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Military officials say they continue to investigate the killings of three Israeli hostages by Israeli soldiers. The three hostages - all men, all in their 20s - were abducted from Israel by Hamas-backed militants on October 7. Well, last Friday, they emerged in northern Gaza shirtless, carrying a white flag, but Israeli troops shot them dead. The killings have prompted protests and condemnation in Israel, with many asking, who is to blame? As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, critics say the deaths exemplify excessive force being used by Israeli troops.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The funeral of 26-year-old Alon Shamriz was seen widely on Israeli media.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Singing in Hebrew).

KAHN: His brother, Yonatan, convulsing in tears, said how cruel it was to survive more than 70 days in captivity, only to be shot down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YONATAN SHAMRIZ: (Speaking Hebrew).

KAHN: "You emerged from the tunnel into the open air. You'd seen freedom and done everything right in the face of a ridiculous chain of command, an irresponsible government and a barbaric terrorist organization," he said, trailing off, sobbing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAMRIZ: (Speaking Hebrew, crying).

KAHN: In Tel Aviv, protesters took to the streets over the weekend after news broke of the killing of the hostages...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting in Hebrew).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Chanting in Hebrew).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #1: (Chanting in Hebrew).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP #2: (Chanting in Hebrew).

KAHN: ...Demanding their government negotiate a deal to bring all the hostages home now. Angry marchers expressed shock that the three were killed by friendly fire. But like 64-year-old Gal Levy, many said their anger wasn't directed at the soldiers.

GAL LEVY: I don't blame them. But they're just, you know, doing what they're supposed to do because this is what they are trained to do.

KAHN: Officials say the investigation continues and that the killings were in violation of the military's rules of engagement. It's unclear whether charges will be brought against the soldiers who shot the men. According to the military, all three had removed their shirts, were holding a makeshift white flag and speaking to them in Hebrew from a close distance. Roy Yellin of the Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, wants to see ministers in the government be held accountable for the killings. He says they are the ones spreading a message that everyone in Gaza is a terrorist.

ROY YELLIN: That there are no innocent people in Gaza. This is what creates this shoot first, ask question later kind of mentality among soldiers.

KAHN: His group has spent years documenting shootings by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian civilians, which he says are rarely prosecuted. Palestinian political activist Dr. Mustafa Barghouti says he too does not believe anyone will be held accountable, which he says is only being discussed because the victims were Israelis.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: The problem is that Israel itself is not held accountable, and Israel is held above international law and above all forms of accountability.

KAHN: Yesterday, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi told troops of the 99th Division deployed in Gaza that if they see people holding a white flag, hold your fire.

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HERZI HALEVI: (Speaking Hebrew).

KAHN: "Take two seconds, even if they are Gazans," he said. "This is not what the IDF is," he said, referring to the initials of Israel's military. "This is not what we are," he repeated.

For his part, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists he is staying the course on the war despite increasing pressure, even from President Biden, who has recently expressed concern about the high number of civilian casualties in Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).

KAHN: "We are guided by those who have fallen and we will fight to the end," he said, "to eliminate Hamas and bring the hostages home."

While the U.S. has urged Israel to take more care with civilians, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was in Tel Aviv today and said the U.S. would not dictate timelines or terms. Gaza's health ministry says the confirmed death toll there now has topped 19,000.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Tel Aviv. 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 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.