Israel’s military said it has learned that its forces had come close to finding three hostages before they were mistakenly killed by Israeli troops in Gaza last week, an episode that has roiled the country and raised pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to quickly reach a deal to free Hamas’s remaining captives.
The news was the latest to emerge since the fatal shooting of the three hostages, who were unarmed and bearing a makeshift white flag. Israel’s military has been quick in disclosing details of the shooting, which it said violated its rules of engagement.
In a briefing late Wednesday, Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman, said that five days before the deadly hostage shooting, Israeli forces had been patrolling the area where they now know that the hostages were held.
They engaged in a firefight with Palestinian militants and sent a combat dog equipped with a GoPro camera into a building for reconnaissance. The military said Palestinian fighters shot the dog, and the Israeli soldiers prevailed in the fight, killing the militants.
But it turns out, the military has since learned, that the dog’s GoPro continued to record, capturing the voices of the three young hostages — Yotam Haim, Alon Shamriz and Samer Talalka — who had been abducted, alongside roughly 240 others, during Hamas’s Oct. 7 surprise attack. The footage was apparently left unchecked at the time, the Israeli military said, and it was unclear when the military retrieved the camera.
After their captors were killed, the three hostages fled the building, Admiral Hagari said. It was not clear where they were over the next five days, before they were ultimately spotted by Israeli troops, near a building more than a half mile away.
The Israeli troops were patrolling that area in Gaza City, in a neighborhood that had seen deadly ambushes in recent days. The soldiers were on high alert for attempts by Hamas to ambush Israeli forces, possibly in civilian clothes, the military said.
The three young hostages, shirtless and holding the makeshift white flag, exited a nearby building, the Israeli military said, citing a preliminary investigation. One of the Israeli soldiers, mistaking them for a threat, opened fire, killing two of them and wounding the third, according to the military.
The third hostage fled into the building, from which a cry in Hebrew for help could be heard. The battalion commander ordered the forces to hold their fire. But the wounded hostage later re-emerged, after which he was fatally shot, the military said.
Admiral Hagari pledged that the Israeli military would continue to investigate the shooting, which the military’s chief of staff called a clear violation of the open-fire policy. He added that the military was investigating why the GoPro footage was not immediately reviewed.
“We will present all the material to the families. We owe the families the truth and the investigation,” Admiral Hagari said. The military would “do everything to ensure that this never happens again,” he added.
Iris Haim, the mother of Yotam, released a recorded message on Wednesday in which she told the soldiers involved in her son’s death that she blamed no one except for Hamas.
“We want to see you with our own eyes and embrace you,” said Ms. Haim, in an English translation put out by Israel’s government press office. “None of us are judging you or angry with you,” she added.
After their deaths, many in Israel have demanded that Mr. Netanyahu do more to secure the release of the more than 100 hostages, mostly men, who are still held in Gaza.
That includes declaring a pause in fighting, or a cease-fire, like the one that ended on Dec. 1. During that halt, Hamas released over 80 Israeli hostages and 24 foreign nationals, while Israel released some 240 Palestinian prisoners and detainees.