A preliminary report into the fatal shooting of three Israeli hostages by the IDF has found the trio were waving a white flag, while one called for help in Hebrew.

Yotam Haim, 28, Samer Al-Talalka, 25, and Alon Shamriz, 26, who had been abducted from near the border with the Gaza strip, were killed in the Gaza City area of Shijaiyah, where troops have been engaged in fierce fighting with Hamas militants in recent days.

The IDF admitted on Friday that its own forces had accidentally killed the three hostages, and an initial investigation has now taken place.

It found that a solider identified three shirtless figures on a building holding a long stick with white fabric attached to it.

The IDF's report states that the solider, for unknown reasons, felt unsafe and opened fire on the trio, with two dropping to the ground immediately and the third escaping to a nearby building.

Having opened fire, he then informed his commanding officer that he was in combat with militants, with another IDF squad pursuing the third hostage.

According to the report, the soldiers heard shouts in Hebrew as they approached the building asking for assistance, with the man running out of the building and inside again.

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The IDF soldiers interpreted this as a trap, entered the building and killed the hostage.

When the bodies were examined, it was discovered the three men had been escaped Israeli hostages.

An IDF spokesperson said: "I'll say very, very clearly. This was against our rules of engagement. I repeat, it was against our rules of engagement.

"All the rules of engagement are being sent out again to all the forces."

The Herald: Israel

A building in the area had previously been marked 'SOS' and 'Help! three hostages' and had been marked as a potential trap by Israeli forces.

An IDF official said: "We're still looking to see if there's a connection between that building and the hostages."

In seven weeks since ground troops pushed into northern Gaza, troops have not rescued any hostages, though they freed one early in the conflict and have found the bodies of several. Hamas released more than 100 in swaps for Palestinian prisoners last month, and more than 130 are believed to be still in captivity.

Gaza is currently under a communications blackout and a United Nations agency said hunger levels had spiralled in recent days.

Internet and telephone lines went down on Thursday evening and were still inaccessible on Saturday morning, according to internet access advocacy group NetBlocks.org, hampering aid deliveries and rescue efforts.

“The internet blackout is ongoing, and based on our records it is the longest such incident” in the over-two-month war, said Alp Toker, the group’s director.

The United Nations’ humanitarian affairs department said communications with Gaza were “severely disrupted” due to damage to telecommunications lines in the south.

With only a trickle of aid able to enter and distribution disrupted by fighting, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) reported a surge from 38% to 56% in the number of displaced households experiencing severe levels of hunger in the space of under two weeks.

In the north, where aid has been unable to enter, “households … are expected to face a catastrophic situation,” the WFP said.

The offensive has killed more than 18,700 Palestinians, the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said on Thursday before the communications blackout. It does not differentiate between militants and civilians, but previous death tolls have seen as many of two-thirds of those killed women and children.

An Israeli strike killed a Palestinian journalist and wounded another in the southern city of Khan Younis, both working for the Al Jazeera television network.

The two were reporting at a school that had been hit by an earlier airstrike when a drone launched a second strike, the network said.