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Israeli military opens probe into reports of Oct. 7 friendly fire deaths

By James Mackenzie

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has begun investigating possible breaches of the law by its forces during the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, the military said on Tuesday, following reports some Israeli civilians may have been killed by friendly fire in the fighting.

The left-wing daily Haaretz said the investigation centred on an incident in Kibbutz Be'eri, one of the worst hit communities, in which a house was shelled by a tank, killing 12 Israeli hostages held by Palestinian Hamas gunmen.

It said the probe had been delayed due to the demands of the four-month-old war in Gaza but as fighting has slackened, army commanders felt the time had come for an investigation.

Asked to confirm the investigation would look at the incident, the Israel Defence Forces press desk sent a statement confirming the investigation was taking place, without offering further comment or details.

"The IDF is operating the Fact Finding and Assessment Mechanism (FFAM) to examine reports and complaints regarding the violation of Israeli and international law during the fighting," the military said in a statement.

The statement said the fact-finding mission was in the initial stages but investigators had begun to collect materials.

Once an investigation is completed, all materials would be handed over to the Military Advocate General's office, which would decide if there were grounds to open a military police investigation.

"The IDF is committed to conducting a thorough review and investigation," the military said.

Around 1,200 Israelis and foreigners were killed in the attack by thousands of Hamas-led gunmen, according to Israeli tallies, the worst loss of life in a single day since Israel's founding in 1948. More than 240 people were taken hostage.

Asked about the Be'eri incident, the Israeli military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the army was still focused on fighting in Gaza but was preparing its investigation.

"We will turn over every stone," he told a regular press briefing. "We have started paving this path for learning and investigating. We will update."

Israeli media have previously reported on the incident during the chaotic fighting in Be'eri, when witnesses have said a tank opened fire on a house where gunmen were holding 12 Israelis hostage.

In response to the attack, Israel launched an air and ground invasion of Gaza, which has so far killed more than 27,000 Palestinians, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, and reduced much of the enclave to rubble.

The attack by Hamas gunmen, who rampaged through communities around Gaza, has raised an array of questions about the readiness of the Israeli military which authorities have pledged to investigate fully once the fighting is over.

"It will be a difficult journey," the Chief of the General Staff, General Herzi Halevi said, commenting on the wider investigation into the security failures that preceded the attack. "We will emerge on the other side strengthened and much better, and that is exactly what we need," he said.

(Additional reporting by Henriette Chacar; Editing by Howard Goller)