Israel’s ongoing aerial and ground assault on the Gaza Strip has caused widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure, including schools, banks, residential towers and hospitals, raising concerns about possible war crimes and humanitarian crisis.
The attack, which began on Saturday, October 7, 2023, was a response to an unprecedented incursion by Hamas militants who killed more than 800 Israelis and took at least 100 more hostage. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, which involved thousands of rockets fired from Gaza, as well as a ground invasion by Hamas fighters who crossed the southern border through a network of tunnels. Hamas also attempted a naval assault using speedboats and drones.
Since then, Israel has launched a relentless bombing campaign of Gaza, a densely populated enclave of 2.3 million people, most of whom are children. According to the Palestinian health ministry, at least 770 Palestinians have been killed and 4,000 wounded in the strikes. The Israeli military said it had killed more than 300 Hamas fighters and destroyed dozens of rocket launchers and tunnels.
However, many of the targets hit by Israel have been civilian infrastructure, such as schools, banks, residential buildings and mosques. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 1,000 buildings have been obliterated or partially destroyed in Gaza, displacing about 58,000 people who are now seeking shelter in UN-run schools or with relatives.
One of the most prominent buildings to be demolished was the Al-Jalaa tower, a 12-story building that housed several media outlets, including Al Jazeera and the Associated Press. Israel claimed that the building also contained Hamas military assets, but did not provide any evidence to back up its claim. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had asked Israel for justification for the strike.
Other buildings that have been levelled or severely damaged include the Al-Shorouk tower, which housed several media offices and a popular cafe; the Al-Rimal clinic, which was the main coronavirus testing center in Gaza; the Ministry of Health building, which stored medical supplies and equipment; and the Ministry of Labour building, which provided social services to thousands of families.
Israel has also targeted mosques, which serve as places of worship and community centers for Palestinians. According to the Islamic affairs ministry in Gaza, at least 10 mosques have been demolished in Israel’s bombardment so far.
In addition to buildings, Israel has also attacked water and electricity infrastructure, as well as medical facilities and humanitarian convoys. Israel’s infrastructure minister Israel Katz said he had ordered to cut off water supply to Gaza, while its defense minister Yoav Gallant declared a “complete siege” of Gaza, blocking the entry of food and fuel. As a result, Gaza is facing a severe shortage of basic necessities and a looming humanitarian catastrophe.
Israel has also cut off most of the electricity supply to Gaza, leaving the enclave with only four hours of power per day. This has disrupted the operations of hospitals, which are struggling to cope with the influx of wounded patients and the risk of coronavirus infection. According to OCHA, 19 health facilities have been damaged by Israeli strikes and six are not functioning due to lack of electricity or staff.
Israel has justified its attacks on Gaza as self-defense and said it is doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties. However, human rights groups have accused Israel of violating international law and committing war crimes by indiscriminately targeting civilian infrastructure and using disproportionate force.
Amnesty International said that Israel’s pattern of attacks on residential homes in Gaza must be investigated as war crimes. Human Rights Watch said that Israel’s attacks on media offices violated the laws of war and endangered journalists. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that Israel’s strikes on Gaza may constitute war crimes if they are found to be indiscriminate or disproportionate.
The international community has called for an immediate ceasefire and a de-escalation of tensions between Israel and Hamas. The US President Joe Biden said he supported a ceasefire and urged both sides to protect civilians. The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Sunday and expressed “grave concern” over the situation in Gaza. However, no concrete action has been taken so far to end the violence and address the root causes of the conflict.