Israel says three Israeli hostages mistakenly killed by the military in Gaza on Friday used leftover food to write placards pleading for help.
According to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), they stayed “for some time” in a building next to where they were shot.
Officials have admitted that the killing of white flag bearers was a violation of the “Rules of Engagement”.
And Israel is under increasing pressure for a deal to release the hostages.
Another 120 are believed to be held captive in the Gaza Strip.
They were seized by the militants during Hamas attacks on October 7, which killed around 1,200 people in southern Israel.
Israel has launched a massive retaliatory operation aimed at destroying Hamas.
According to local health officials, more than 18,000 people have been killed in Gaza, and hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes.
The hostages – Yotam Haim, 28, Samer Talalka, 22, and Alon Shamriz, 26 – were killed Friday in Gaza City’s Shejaya neighborhood after Israeli troops faced heavy resistance.
According to an Israeli military official who spoke on condition of anonymity, the men came out of a building shirtless, one carrying a stick with a white cloth.
One of the soldiers, who was ten meters away, felt threatened and declared them “terrorists” and opened fire. Two were killed instantly, and the third, wounded, returned to the building.
A cry for help was heard in Hebrew and the battalion commander ordered the troops to cease firing. The wounded hostage later re-emerged and was shot dead, the official said.
It is unclear whether the hostages were abandoned by their captors or escaped.
On Sunday, a raid on the IDF building revealed the messages “SOS” and “Help, 3 hostages” written on cloth.
Authorities believe the hostages have been there for some time.
Since a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas ended earlier this month, the hostages’ families have urged the Israeli government to reach a new ceasefire to free at least some of those held captive. The initial deal led to the release of more than 100 hostages in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deflected the calls, insisting that “military pressure is necessary for the return of the hostages and victory.”
Amid mounting Palestinian civilian casualties, Israeli officials have come under international pressure, including from the country’s main ally, the United States.
On Sunday, France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna called on Israel for an “immediate and lasting ceasefire”.
Israeli representative Eli Cohen said the ceasefire would be a mistake, describing it as a gift to Hamas.
Britain and Germany have also called for a “permanent armistice” while stopping short of saying it must be immediate.
Vast swathes of the Gaza Strip have been devastated by Israeli bombardment, and the United Nations has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe amid widespread shortages of basic goods.
Pictures on social media on Sunday showed Gaza residents boarding aid trucks.
The IDF unveiled what it said was Hamas’ largest offensive tunnel to date, with no let-up in the fighting.
The tunnel – in some places wide enough for cars to pass through – was 400m from the Erez border with Israel, the IDF said.