Israeli-controlled demolitions are destroying neighborhoods in Gaza

Residential buildings were demolished by Israeli forces in January near Gaza's border with Israel.

A resort hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Multi-storied courts built in 2018. Dozens of homes destroyed in seconds by a single trigger.

The damage caused by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza is well documented. But Israeli ground forces have also carried out a wave of controlled explosions that have drastically changed the landscape in recent months.

At least 33 controlled demolitions have destroyed hundreds of buildings — including mosques, schools and entire swaths of residential areas — since November, a New York Times analysis of Israeli military footage, social media videos and satellite images shows.

In response to questions about the demolitions, an Israeli army spokesman said “soldiers are finding and destroying terrorist infrastructure embedded in buildings” in civilian areas – sometimes entire neighborhoods are serving as “war complexes” for Hamas. fighters.

Controlled demolitions in Gaza

The Times checked two dozen outbursts in videos posted between November 15 and January 24.

Gaza City Residential buildings

Al-Gharara Rural residential area

Gusa Residential buildings

Gaza City Blue Beach Resort

Gaza City Apartment buildings

Gaza City Residential buildings

Gaza City Palestine Square

Pete Hanoun Two UN schools

Bani Suheela Residential buildings

Gaza City Many buildings

Gusa Residential buildings

Gaza City Multi-storied building

Gaza City Two storied building

Bani Suheela Al Dilal Mosque

Gaza City Residential building

Gaza City Residential building

Gusa Residential buildings

Al-Zahra Israel University

Gaza City Residential buildings

Al-Muzadar Many buildings

Gaza City Residential buildings

Al-Zahra Gaza's Palace of Justice

Bani Suheela Residential buildings

Gusa Residential buildings

Al-Gharara Rural residential area

Pete Hanoun Many buildings

Al-Mukraha Al-Azhar University Campus

Bani Suheela Residential buildings

Israeli officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, said Israel wanted to demolish Palestinian buildings near the border as part of efforts to create a security “buffer zone” inside Gaza. Militants carrying out cross-border attacks like the one in southern Israel on October 7.

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But most of the demolitions found by The Times occurred outside the so-called buffer zone. And the number of confirmed demolitions – based on the availability of visual evidence – may represent only a fraction of the actual number carried out by Israel since the start of the war.

The Israeli army carried out controlled demolitions in Gaza

The demolition site is shown in the video

Areas damaged during the war

Sources: New York Times analysis of social media videos and satellite imagery; Damage analysis of Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite data by Corey Sher CUNY Graduate Center and Jamon van den Hoek Oregon State University

Note: Damage analysis data as of January 29 at 5:44 AM in Gaza and Israel.

To carry out these demolitions, soldiers enter target structures to place mines or other explosives, then leave to pull the trigger from a safe distance. In most cases, Israeli troops clear and secure the surrounding areas. But in areas of intense fighting, demolitions are not without risk.

Last week, 21 Israeli soldiers were killed as their unit prepared to blow up several buildings near the border in central Gaza. Palestinian militants fired rocket-propelled grenades in their direction, detonating explosives, Israeli officials said.

According to the Israeli army's chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, soldiers were clearing the area to allow residents of southern Israel to safely return to their homes.

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In December, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the creation of a buffer zone with Israel along Gaza's roughly 36-mile border would violate Washington's longstanding stance against reducing territory in Gaza. Humanitarian law experts say the rubble — which will prevent some Palestinians from eventually returning to their homes — may violate the laws of war that prohibit the deliberate destruction of civilian property.

In a video of the demolition from late November, a controlled explosion toppled at least four high-rise residential buildings not far from a major hospital in Gaza City. Another demolition in December destroyed a dozen buildings around the city's central Palestinian Square, which the Israeli military said contained a large network of tunnels.

Controlled demolition in Gaza City's Palestine Square

According to satellite analysis estimates, half of the buildings in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed since the war began. Although the damage was heavy from airstrikes and fighting, large controlled demolitions represented some of the most destructive episodes.

In the city of Kusa in the buffer zone east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, videos from early January showed soldiers detonating dozens of bombs and destroying nearly 200 homes. Other videos show soldiers cheering and clapping as they detonate.

Controlled demolitions in Kusa

One of the largest demolitions identified by The Times took place in Shujaiya, a residential area on the outskirts of Gaza City. According to satellite images taken in December, over three weeks, scores of houses in the same area were demolished.

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Controlled demolition in Shujaiya, Gaza City

In some videos, the wreckage appears to be aimed at underground infrastructure. Others – including the demolition of mosques, UN-affiliated schools and university buildings – at Isra University in mid-January, drew widespread condemnation after the video went viral online.

Controlled demolition of Isra University, Gaza City

After US officials raised questions about the decision to demolish the university, the Israeli military said the episode was “under investigation”. While the site was cleared and secured by Israeli ground forces, military officials said it once served as a Hamas training camp and weapons manufacturing facility — something the Times could not verify.

“The fact that it was previously used by enemy combatants is not a justification for such destruction,” said Marco Sassoli, a professor of international law at the University of Geneva, stressing that such demolitions should only be carried out if absolutely necessary by the military. Activities. “I can't imagine what it would be like for a university, parliament building, mosque, school or hotel in the middle of the Gaza Strip.”

An Israeli army spokesman said all actions by Israeli forces were “based on military necessity and in accordance with international law”.

For Palestinians, the ruins are another symbol of loss and destruction in Gaza, raising questions about the territory's future after decades of displacement and war.

“Israel's plan is to destroy Gaza, make it unlivable and lifeless,” said Hussam Zomlat, the Palestinian ambassador to Britain. “Israel's goal is to make it impossible for our people to return to their land.”

Two days after 21 Israeli soldiers were killed in central Gaza, another demolition was filmed on video. A soldier said that 21 houses will be destroyed in their memory.

Controlled demolition at Bani Suheila, Khan Yunis

The players in the video begin to count, followed by a large explosion.

Sources and methodology

Satellite images from Planet Labs. A picture of Palestine Square in Gaza City was taken on December 24, 2023. Kuja's film Jan. Retrieved on 16, 2024. Picture of Shujai in Gaza City taken on December 26, 2023.

Times reporters reviewed and verified dozens of videos from official Israeli military sources, news organizations and social media accounts. Reporters cross-referenced the footage against satellite images and geospatial databases to confirm the date, location and spatial extent of the demolitions. Some demolition Places were First identified By Online researchers The Times later confirmed.

Aric Toler, Patrick Kingsley and Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting. Meg Felling contributed to the video production.

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