((JEWISH REVIEW)) — Israel and Hamas appear set to restart indirect negotiations over releasing Israeli hostages, and a pause in the fighting in Gaza, days after Israeli troops mistakenly killed three hostages who were trying to escape the terror group.
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is in Israel with an agenda that includes pressing the Israelis to slow the civilian death toll in Gaza.
David Barnea, the chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, is due to travel to Europe this week for negotiations with the prime minister of Qatar, where Hamas’ leadership is based. The report of this trip comes days after he canceled another trip to Qatar for negotiations. According to Reuters, Hamas has demanded authority over which hostages it will release in a future deal, a condition Israel accepted, though it has said it will need to view the list of names in advance.
The renewed momentum toward negotiations comes as leaders of Israel’s defense establishment apologized for the incident Friday, in which soldiers fighting in a Gaza City-area neighborhood reportedly fired on the three men against protocol. The men, according to reports, were waving a white cloth and yelling in Hebrew, and a photograph from the area shows a wall graffitied in Hebrew with the message “Help, 3 hostages.”
The incident has spurred outrage in Israel, in particular from the family members of hostages, who have pressed their government to resume indirect negotiations toward the release of hostages. In November, Israel and Hamas paused the fighting for seven days in exchange for Hamas releasing more than 100 of the hostages it took captive in its invasion on Oct. 7, while Israel released hundreds of Palestinians security prisoners. More than 100 hostages are thought to remain in Gaza.
The families of hostages protested in the wake of the incident, and according to the Times of Israel, Avi Shamriz, the father of one of the killed hostages, told Israeli media, “The IDF abandoned my son on October 7, and the IDF murdered my son on December 14. That’s what happened.”
In remarks to troops on Sunday, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi told soldiers to wait before firing on people who have their hands up or are waving a white flag.
“You see two people, they’re not threatening you, they’re unarmed, their hands are up and they’re not wearing shirts — take two seconds,” Halevi said. “And I want to tell you something no less important: What if it’s two Gazans with a white flag who come out to surrender? What, do we shoot at them? Absolutely not. Absolutely not.”
In a video on Saturday night, Halevi said that as the head of the military, he was “responsible for what happened, and we will do everything to keep similar things from happening as the fighting continues.” He added that Israeli soldiers in Gaza had encountered Hamas fighters drawing them into traps, which may have led the soldiers to suspect that the hostages were combatants.