Israeli airstrikes on Gaza high-rises may have been war crimes, rights group claims

Many buildings were destroyed after being hit by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City in mid-May. Credit: AP

The Israeli airstrikes that destroyed four high-rise buildings during May's conflict in the Gaza Strip may have violated international laws of war, a leading human rights group has claimed.

Israeli forces attacked the Hanadi, Jawhara, Shorouk, and Jala towers in the densely populated al-Rimal neighborhood between May 11 and 15, claiming Palestinian militant groups were using the towers for military purposes.

Although no-one was harmed in the airstrikes, a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), based partly on analysis of videos and photographs, says that several dozen families were left homeless, with buildings damaged and businesses ruined as a result.

Richard Weir, crisis and conflict researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: “The apparently unlawful Israeli strikes on four high-rise towers in Gaza City caused serious, lasting harm for countless Palestinians who lived, worked, shopped or benefited from businesses based there.

“The Israeli military should publicly produce the evidence that it says it relies on to carry out these attacks.”

Israeli authorities said the buildings contained offices of Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups, including the bases of military intelligence. 

Israeli warplanes unleashed a new series of heavy airstrikes at several locations in Gaza City in mid May

But HRW's research, based on interviews with 18 Palestinians who saw the strikes or were impacted by them, concluded there was no evidence that members of militant groups had a presence in any of the towers over the time they were targeted.

While the report acknowledges the Israeli military warned tenants of impending attacks, allowing for their evacuation, it states the airstrikes appeared to cause disproportionate harm to civilian property.

The Israeli has said that during the conflict with Palestinian armed groups in Gaza from May 10 to 21, its forces attacked some 1,500 targets with air- and ground-launched munitions.

The United Nations estimates at least 256 people were killed in Gaza, with 13 people killed in Israel during 11 days of intense fighting.

An Israeli air strike hits a building in Gaza City, Monday, May 17, 2021. Credit: AP

It came after weeks of bitter Israeli-Palestinian tension in East Jerusalem which culminated in clashes at a holy site revered by both Muslims and Jewish people.

The militant Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, began firing rockets after warning Israel to retreat from the site, sparking retaliatory air strikes. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to the accusations levelled in the report.