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Israeli army acknowledges Oct. 7 failures, including slow response and disorganization

JERUSALEM — (AP) — The Israeli military on Thursday acknowledged a string of errors in its response to the deadly Hamas attacks last Oct. 7, including slow response times and disorganization, as it released the results of its first investigation into failures during the assault that triggered the war in Gaza.

The report focused on the border community of Be'eri, where over 100 people were killed and more than 30 others taken hostage by Hamas. It was among the hardest-hit communities in the early morning attack, and it was the scene of one of the highest-profile confrontations of Oct. 7 – a standoff in which militants held a group of hostages inside a home.

“The army failed in its mission to protect the residents of Kibbutz Be'eri,” the military's chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said in a televised address. “It is painful and difficult for me to say that.”

During the standoff, a tank fired at the home, raising concerns that the 13 hostages inside were killed by friendly fire. The military concluded that they were likely killed by Hamas militants, not Israeli shelling, though it was unclear how it reached that conclusion, and the report called for additional tests. The army said the kibbutz was overrun by about 340 Hamas fighters.

Investigators “determined that, based on the information reviewed and to the best of their understanding, no civilians inside the building were harmed by tank shell fire," the report said, though it said two Israeli civilians were hit by shrapnel outside the building. One of those civilians died, according to the man’s wife.

It also said commanders on the scene made “professional and responsible decisions” in ordering the tank strike. It said there had been a joint decision by various commanders after hearing gunshots within the house and militants saying they planned to kill the hostages and commit suicide.

“The team determined that most of the hostages were likely murdered by the terrorists,” the report said.

The report also pointed to delays of several hours in the arrival of military forces and said forces waited outside the kibbutz into the afternoon as residents were being killed, not understanding the severity of the situation.

“This situation is extremely grave and cannot occur,” it said.

The report praised “the bravery of the Be’eri residents and the members of the kibbutz’s civilian rapid response team," saying it was "crucial in stabilizing the defensive line during the first hours of combat.”

The Israeli army has come under heavy criticism from Palestinians and human rights groups, who say its investigations rarely result in punishment.

Kibbutz residents gave the report a mixed reception, expressing anger over the army’s failures that day but also appreciation that it took responsibility.

Meir Zarbiv, a resident whose brother and sister were both killed on Oct. 7, called the report a “deception” by the army. “I don’t believe the report, and I don’t believe anything about it,” he said.

He said he still cannot understand the delays in arriving and entering the kibbutz. “I just don’t believe what happened here. I have no explanation,” he said. “Where was the army?”

In a statement, the community called the investigation “thorough” and said it helped them understand the complexity of the fighting that day.

“We see great importance in the army accepting the blame and responsibility for its complete failure to protect us and in asking for forgiveness for abandoning us for many hours during an attack of unmatched evil,” it said.

The kibbutz also called for an official state commission of inquiry into the broader failures of Oct. 7 “so the unimaginable loss we experienced will never against be experienced by any other citizen.”

The surprise cross-border raid killed some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took 250 others hostage, in the deadliest attack in Israel’s 76-year history. The attack, in which several thousand militants stormed across the border without resistance, revealed grave shortcomings in the army’s readiness, its intelligence assessments and policies set by political leaders toward Gaza.

An Israeli offensive launched in response to the attack has killed over 38,000 Palestinians, according to local health authorities, displaced over 80% of the territory’s people and triggered a humanitarian disaster in Gaza. Israel is now facing war crimes and genocide allegations in international courts.

The army has launched multiple investigations into the failures of Oct. 7, and the head of military intelligence has resigned. Several other commanders have apologized and taken responsibility for their failures.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected repeated calls for an official state investigation, even as the war enters its 10th month.

Netanyahu has said an investigation cannot be conducted while the country is focused on its war against Hamas and says all questions will be answered at the appropriate time. But critics accuse the Israeli leader of dragging his feet to avoid what will almost certainly be harsh criticism of his policies and leadership.

At a military ceremony Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the time has come to launch a state commission of inquiry to look into the country's leadership. “It needs to check me, the minister of defense. It needs to check the prime minister.”

In the face of fierce international criticism, Netanyahu has vowed to continue the war until destroying Hamas’ military and governing capabilities and the roughly 120 hostages remaining in Gaza return home. Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets in weekly protests calling on Netanyahu to reach an immediate cease-fire, saying time is running out to bring the hostages home safely.

International mediators have launched renewed efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

Netanyahu announced Thursday that he would send a team of negotiators to Cairo to continue cease-fire talks, but he reiterated his stance that he will not halt the war until Israel achieves its war objectives.

He was interrupted by hecklers at the same military ceremony when he vowed to continue the war “until victory, even if it takes time.”

As he spoke, a small crowd began to chant “shame.”

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Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg and Isaac Scharf contributed to this report.

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