During 11 days in May, Israeli strikes in Gaza killed up to 10 times more civilians than the country’s eight-year bombing campaign against Iranian-linked forces in Syria, new Airwars research has found. The investigation raises critical concerns about the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
The report “Why did they bomb us?”: Urban civilian harm in Gaza, Syria and Israel from explosive weapons use contains extensive monitoring by Airwars of local sources indicating that the actions of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have likely killed between 14 and 40 civilians in Syria since 2013, when it began a major campaign against Iranian-linked groups in the country.
Meanwhile, in Gaza in May 2021, Israeli air and artillery strikes likely killed between 151 and 192 civilians in less than two weeks. Thousands of Palestinian rockets also targeted Israeli cities and towns during May, with more than 30 civilian harm events locally identified by Airwars.
Applying the same open source monitoring methodology Airwars uses to track civilian harm caused by the United States, Russia, and other foreign powers in conflict nations including Iraq, Libya and Somalia, researchers documented all local reports of civilians killed and injured by Israeli strikes in Gaza and Syria, as well as of civilians harmed in Israel by Palestinian rocket fire during May 2021.
Among the report’s key findings are:
- In Gaza between 151 and 192 civilians were likely killed as a result of IDF actions in May 2021, mostly in densely populated areas. Between 15 and 20 civilian deaths in Gaza were additionally likely to have resulted from Palestinian misfires.
- In Syria, an extensive IDF air campaign since 2013 has likely killed at least 14 and up to 40 Syrian civilians, with strikes mostly focused on exclusively military targets.
- Across the three conflict areas, the targeting approach and the population density of those areas bombed were critical drivers of civilian harm, leading to profoundly different outcomes for civilians.
Airwars has produced an interactive map documenting all civilian deaths in Gaza and showing the scale of loss in different neighbourhoods and allowing viewers to read more about each individual case.
The 54-page Airwars report points to two critical determinants for civilian harm: the targeting strategy employed, and the population density of those areas struck.
In Syria, Israeli forces have mostly chosen to target away from urban areas, with strikes mostly on exclusively military targets, such as weapons depots. Yet in May 2021, when conflict erupted between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups, Israel carried out more than 1,500 air and artillery strikes on Gaza, one of the most heavily populated places on earth. Militants were regularly targeted in non-military settings, leading to devastating impacts for civilians.
Over a third of reported civilian victims of Israeli strikes were children. “And in 101 of the locally alleged incidents where civilians were reported harmed in Gaza during May,” states the report, “Airwars could find no local community reports or official statements of militants also being killed. That is, civilians were the only known victims. When the IDF devastated Gaza’s busiest shopping area, al-Wahda Street, in the early hours of May 16th, its stated target was a Hamas tunnel system beneath. While there are no known records of militant casualties, as many as 49 civilians from three different families, including up to 18 children, died in the massive assault.”
High civilian casualties in Gaza are symptomatic of an escalating and profoundly troubling global military trend in the use of wide area effect weapons in populated areas. In early 2022 there will be a major push at the United Nations to limit such weapons in civilian areas.
Airwars, founded in 2014, is a collaborative, not-for-profit transparency organisation aimed at tracking, assessing and archiving military actions and related civilian harm claims in conflict zones. Previous reports have been covered by Labour Hub here, here, here and here.
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