Israel Admits Killing Five of Its Own Young Soldiers by Mistake

The Israeli military said Thursday that five of its soldiers were killed in Gaza when they were hit by Israeli tank shells in what is thought to be one of the deadliest instances of friendly fire since the outbreak of the war.

Another seven troops were wounded—including three seriously—in the incident in the northern city of Jabalia on Wednesday evening. All of the deceased victims served in the 202nd Battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade and were between the ages of 20 and 22.

“An initial investigation into the deaths of five IDF soldiers reveals that IDF tanks, located dozens of meters away, identified a weapon and fired shells at an IDF force nearby,” the Isreal Defense Forces said in a statement, according to NBC News.

“This force had entered the northern part of Gaza and occupied buildings along a logistic route. The tanks fired two shells for unclear reasons, resulting in seven more soldiers being injured, three severely.” The statement also said the IDF is investigating “why the shells were fired and if the soldiers were mistaken for armed militants.”

The killings brought the number of Israeli soldier deaths over the course of the seven-month conflict to 278, according to IDF figures. Of those, 44 were killed in what the military calls “operational accidents.”

Elsewhere on Thursday, the United Nations’ top court will open two days of hearings over a request from South Africa for an order to Israel to stop its offensive in Rafah, the city in southern Gaza where over half of the enclave’s population has sought refuge from the conflict.

The International Court of Justice is being asked to demand that Israel immediately withdraws from Rafah, saying that the court’s previous preliminary orders are not enough to address “a brutal military attack on the sole remaining refuge for the people of Gaza.” South Africa has also requested that the court order Israel to allow humanitarian aid workers, U.N. officials, and journalists into the strip without impediment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly claimed that Rafah is one of the last remaining Hamas strongholds in Gaza and that military action in the city is necessary to deliver a “total victory” over the group which, on Oct. 7, mounted the deadliest attack on Israeli soil in the nation’s history.

The U.S. government, however, fears that a widespread military operation in the city could lead to large civilian casualties, with President Joe Biden warning that he could cut off weapons shipments to Israel if a full-scale ground invasion is launched in Rafah. Other international Israeli allies have also expressed concern that such an invasion could aggravate an already desperate humanitarian crisis in the area.

As part of efforts to alleviate the situation, the U.S. military announced Thursday that it had finished installing a floating pier off a Gaza beach that is intended to help boost the amount of aid entering the enclave. No American troops entered Gaza as part of the effort, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.

“Trucks carrying humanitarian assistance are expected to begin moving ashore in the coming days,” the statement continued. “The United Nations will receive the aid and coordinate its distribution into Gaza.”