Israel's military Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi has taken responsibility for the accidental killing of three Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip.
"The army and I, as its commander, are responsible for what happened and we will do everything we can to prevent such cases from happening again in the future of fighting," he said in a video published on social media platform X on Saturday night.
Halevi emphasised that the rules of engagement were violated when the hostages were killed. He made it clear that people with white flags who want to surrender must not be shot at.
"The three hostages did everything to make us recognise them as such - they had taken off their shirts so that we could see that they were not wearing explosive belts, and they were holding a white flag," admitted Helevi.
At the same time, he pointed out that the soldiers were in an active combat zone.
The three hostages had emerged from a building several dozens of metres away, an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesman said earlier. According to the report, a soldier felt threatened and opened fire.
IDF forces began a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip following the October 7 attacks mounted by the militant group Hamas on Israeli territory across the border, in which some 1,200 people were killed and around 240 hostages taken.
The ground offensive was preceded by and is being accompanied by aerial bombardments. According to Palestinian health officials, about 18,700 people, many of them civilians, have been killed.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the killing of the hostages as an "unbearable tragedy."
According to Israeli estimates, 112 people abducted from Israel are still being held in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is still not releasing the bodies of 20 people kidnapped on October 7, Netanyahu's office said.
On Friday evening, hundreds of people demonstrated spontaneously in Tel Aviv over the killing of the hostages.
Released hostages, relatives of hostages and hundreds of supporters called on Netanyahu to do more to secure the release of the remaining people held in Gaza.
Noam Perry, a relative of a hostage, accused the war Cabinet led by Netanyahu of claiming that military pressure was necessary for the hostages to be released.
"In the meantime, more and more hostages are coming back as corpses," Perry complained. Other spokesmen at the rally called for a government plan to rescue the hostages.
Raz Ben-Ami, a mother of three, who was released after 54 days and whose husband Ohad is still being held captive in Gaza, said the families had warned a fortnight ago that the military action was endangering the hostages.
"They promised to bring the hostages back alive. What are you waiting for? Bring them home now," she said, addressing Netanyahu.
However, at a press conference in Tel Aviv afterwards, Netanyahu emphasised that military pressure on Hamas had to be maintained to ensure victory and the return of all those kidnapped.
"We are more determined than ever to continue to the end, until we have destroyed Hamas and brought back all our abductees," said Netanyahu.