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Israel/OPT: detailed investigation into two Israeli attacks in Gaza shows mass killing of civilians

Some of the aftermath of the airstrike on the Saint Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church compound © Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images

Airstrike on Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church killed 18 sheltering civilians, while attack on homes in al-Nuseirat refugee camp killed another 28 civilians


Victims of attack on church include six-month-old baby and a woman aged 80


Israeli officials have failed to substantiate claims about a Hamas ‘command and control centre’ supposedly targeted in the church attack


‘These deadly, unlawful attacks are part of a documented pattern of disregard for Palestinian civilians’ - Erika Guevara-Rosas


Israeli forces have demonstrated - yet again - a chilling indifference to the catastrophic toll on civilians of their ongoing relentless bombardment of Gaza, said Amnesty International today.


As part of an ongoing investigation into violations of the laws of war during the conflict, Amnesty has documented two illustrative cases in which Israeli airstrikes killed 46 civilians, including 20 children. The oldest victim was an 80-year-old woman and the youngest was a three-month-old baby. These attacks must be investigated as war crimes.


The attacks, which occurred on 19 and 20 October, hit a church building where hundreds of displaced civilians were sheltering in Gaza City, and a home in al-Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza (for details of this attack see beneath the spokesperson quotes below).  


On 19 October, an Israeli airstrike destroyed a building in the compound of the Saint Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church in the heart of Gaza’s old city, where an estimated 450 internally-displaced members of Gaza’s small Christian community were sheltering. The airstrike killed 18 civilians and injured at least 12 others.


Ramez al-Sury, who lost his three children and ten other relatives in the attack, told Amnesty:

“My heart died with my children that evening. All my children were killed: Majid, 11, Julie, 12, and Suhail, 14. I have nothing left. I should have died with my children. I left them only two minutes earlier. My sister called me to go downstairs to the basement to help my father [who is] bedridden since he had a stroke ... my children stayed in the room with my cousins and their wives and children. That is when the strike happened and killed everyone. We left our homes and came to stay at the church because we thought we would be protected here. We have nowhere else to go … The church was full of peaceful people, only peaceful people … There is nowhere safe in Gaza during this war.”

Sami Tarazi told Amnesty that his parents, Marwan and Nahed, were killed in the church attack, along with his six-month-old niece, Joelle, and his 80-year-old relative, Elaine. One of the church leaders told Amnesty:

“We don’t know why this bombardment [was launched] against our church; nobody has provided any explanation for causing such a tragedy. This is a church, a place of peace and love and prayer … There is no safety anywhere in Gaza at present.”

On 20 October, the Israeli military posted a video of drone footage on social media showing an airstrike on a building within the church compound. Several media outlets quoted an Israeli military statement that “IDF fighter jets struck the command and control centre belonging to a Hamas terrorist involved in the launching of rockets and mortars toward Israel”, acknowledging that “a wall of a church in the area was damaged” as a result of the airstrike and saying the “the incident is under review”. However, the Israeli military video showing the attack has since been deleted and no information has been provided by the Israeli authorities to substantiate its claim that the church was a Hamas “command and control centre”, nor any further information about the purported review of the attack.  


Amnesty has examined, verified and geolocated videos and images posted on social media of the immediate aftermath of the airstrike, and analysed satellite images of the location before and after the attack - all confirming the destruction of one building and partial destruction of another in the church compound. Amnesty’s weapons expert also examined the military video and other images, and concluded that a large air-delivered munition struck the building where those killed and injured were sheltering.  


Church officials had publicly stated that hundreds of civilians were sheltering at the site prior to the attack, so their presence would have been known to the Israeli military. The Israeli military’s decision to go ahead with an airstrike on a known church compound and site for displaced civilians was reckless and amounts to a war crime, even if there was a belief that there was a military objective nearby.


Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International’s Global Research, Advocacy and Policy Director, said:

“Israeli forces’ callous disregard for international humanitarian law has been documented by the organisation extensively in previous military operations - but the intensity and cruelty of the current bombardment is unparalleled.


“The horrifying death toll in Gaza - with more than 11,000 Palestinians killed, including more than 4,600 children within just six weeks - is in itself a signal of just how disposable Palestinian lives are in the eyes of Israeli forces ordering and carrying out these attacks.


“These deadly, unlawful attacks are part of a documented pattern of disregard for Palestinian civilians, and demonstrate the devastating impact of the Israeli military’s unprecedented onslaught has left nowhere safe in Gaza, regardless of where civilians live or seek shelter.


“The harrowing accounts from survivors and relatives of victims describing the devastating human toll of these bombardments offer a snapshot of the mass civilian suffering being inflicted daily across Gaza by the Israeli military’s relentless attacks, underscoring the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire.


“We urge the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor to take immediate concrete action to expedite the investigation into war crimes and other crimes under international law opened in 2021.”

Al-Nuseirat refugee camp attack

On 20 October at around 2pm local time, 28 civilians - including 12 children - were killed by an Israeli airstrike which destroyed the al-Aydi family home and severely damaged two neighbouring houses in the al-Nuseirat refugee camp, in central Gaza, within the area where the Israeli military had ordered residents of northern Gaza to move. Rami al-Aydi, his wife Ranin, and their three children - Ghina, ten, Maya, eight, and Iyad, six - were killed. Zeina Abu Shehada and her two children, Amir al-Aydi, four, and Rakan al-Aydi, three, were also killed, along with Zeina’s mother and two sisters.


Hani al-Aydi, who survived the attack, told Amnesty:

“We were sitting at home, it was full of people, of children, of relatives. Suddenly, without any warning, everything collapsed on our head. All my brothers died, my nephews, my nieces … My mother died, my sisters died, our home is gone … There is nothing here, and now we are left with nothing and are displaced. I don’t know how much worse things will get. Could it get any worse?”

Hazem Abu Shehada’s wife and three daughters were among the victims. They had moved from the nearby al-Maghazi refugee camp looking for safety. He told Amnesty: 

“I will live with that guilt for the rest of my life. It was I who suggested they move there temporarily. I wish I did not do that. I wish I could turn the clock back. I’d rather we all died together than losing my family.”

The airstrike also caused severe damage and the near-total destruction of the neighbouring houses of the al-Ashram and Abu Zarqa families. Six people were killed at the Abu Zarqa home, including four children: sisters Sondos, 12, and Areej, 11; and their cousins Yara, ten, and Khamis Abu Tahoun, 12.


Amnesty’s investigation found that all of those present in the al-Aydi house and in the two nearby homes were civilians. Two members of the al-Aydi family had permits to work in Israel, which require rigorous security checks by the Israeli authorities. Satellite imagery of the site confirms destruction - consistent with an airstrike - between 20 October at 11:19 and 21 October at 8:22. The area and many of the structures appear to have sustained significant damage.

Possible war crimes

Based on an in-depth investigation of both the church attack and the al-Aydi attack, Amnesty has determined that these were indiscriminate attacks or direct attacks on civilians or civilian objects, which must be investigated as possible war crimes. Amnesty visited the attack sites, took photographs of the aftermath of each attack, and interviewed a total of 14 people, including nine survivors, two witnesses, a relative of victims and two church leaders. In addition, Amnesty analysed satellite imagery and open-source audio-visual material to geolocate and verify the attacks, and also reviewed statements by the Israeli military and sent questions to the Israeli military’s spokesperson unit on 30 October - at the time of publication no response had been received.


The Israeli authorities have not published credible evidence of the basis for these strikes, including about alleged military objectives present. On the contrary, in the case of the bombing of the church, the Israeli military published contradictory information, including a video it later withdrew and a statement it failed to substantiate. Amnesty’s research did not find any indication that the buildings hit could be considered military objectives or were used by fighters. These findings build on recent Amnesty research into unlawful Israeli strikes during the current escalation of violence, and on documentation of a similar pattern of unlawful strikes during previous rounds of Israeli operations in Gaza. The current bombardment in Gaza is unparalleled in its intensity, in the number of civilians killed, and in the level of destruction to homes, schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure.

Ceasefire call

Amnesty is calling for an immediate ceasefire by all parties to prevent further loss of civilian lives and to ensure access to aid for people in Gaza amidst an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe. Amnesty has documented how Hamas and other armed groups launched indiscriminate rockets into Israel on 7 October, and sent fighters who committed war crimes, such as deliberate mass killings of civilians and hostage taking. According to the Israeli authorities, at least 239 people, including 33 children, remain hostages of Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza. 


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