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Israel/OPT: three Israeli airstrikes killed 44 civilians in Gaza - new investigation

Children playing table football were among 32 children killed in the attacks on al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza and Rafah last month 

Findings of detailed investigation consistent with broader pattern of war crimes committed by Israeli military in Gaza in past seven months

‘Our family was destroyed for no reason’ - Nisrine Saleh in Rafah

‘Our findings offer crucial evidence of unlawful attacks by the Israeli military’ - Erika Guevara-Rosas 

The International Criminal Court should investigate as war crimes three Israeli airstrikes that killed 44 Palestinian civilians - including 32 children - in Gaza last month, Amnesty International said today as it published the findings of a new investigation. 

The attacks - one on al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza on 16 April, and two on Rafah on 19 and 20 April (see details below) - also injured at least 20 civilians, and are further evidence of a broader pattern of war crimes committed by the Israeli military in Gaza in the last seven months.

For this latest investigation, Amnesty interviewed 17 survivors and witnesses, surveyed the locations of the attacks, visited a hospital where the wounded were being treated, photographed remnants of the munitions used, reviewed video and photographic material obtained from local sources and social media, and examined satellite images of the locations. 

In all three cases, Amnesty did not find evidence that there had been any military targets in or around the locations targeted by the Israeli military, raising serious concerns that the attacks amount to direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects, which are war crimes. Israel has not provided any information about the attacks in Rafah, and has only provided general allegations, which it later contradicted, regarding the al-Maghazi attack. 

Even if Israeli forces had intended to target legitimate military objectives in the vicinity of the three attacks, the evidence indicates that the attacks did not distinguish between military objectives and civilian objects and as such would be indiscriminate. Indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians, or destroy or damage civilian objects, are war crimes. 

The evidence collected by Amnesty also indicates that the Israeli military failed to provide warnings - at a minimum to anyone living in the locations that were hit - before launching the attacks.

On 7 May, Amnesty sent questions regarding the three attacks to the Israeli authorities - at the time of publication no response had been received.

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

“These devastating strikes have decimated families and cruelly cut short the lives of 32 children.

“Our findings offer crucial evidence of unlawful attacks by the Israeli military as the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court applies for arrest warrants for senior Israeli and Hamas officials, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The cases documented here illustrate a clear pattern of attacks over the past seven months in which the Israeli military has flouted international law, killing Palestinian civilians with total impunity and displaying a callous disregard for lives.

“Despite growing calls to end arms transfers to Israel, a UN Security Council resolution ordering a ceasefire, and world leaders warning against the Israeli ground incursion into Rafah, the Israeli military has continued to escalate its operations, including these unrelenting attacks on civilians.

“As the Israeli military continues to escalate its ground incursion in Rafah, these cases also illustrate the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire.”

Al-Maghazi refugee camp: football table attack kills 15 civilians

On 16 April at approximately 3:40pm, an Israeli airstrike on al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza killed ten children aged between four and 15, and five men aged between 29 and 62. The men killed included a barber, a falafel seller, a dental assistant, a football coach, and an older man with a disability. More than a dozen residents, most of them children, were injured. 

The munition landed in the middle of a market street where children were playing table football. Amnesty reviewed four videos and 22 photographs filmed by residents and journalists, plus ones taken at the scene by its fieldworkers. Damage from weapon fragments is visible on the football table, on nearby vehicles, and on the walls of surrounding houses and shops. The pattern of damage at the scene and the electronic components in the recovered fragments matched that of small precision-guided missiles and glide bombs launched by Israeli drones. No helicopter or planes were reported in the area that day while drones were heard repeatedly, according to witnesses interviewed by Amnesty. 

Two of Jaber Nader Abu Jayab’s children were killed in the attack. The 34-year-old told Amnesty: 

“I was at home when I heard the strike. I thought it was further away but as I went out, I realised that it was right by our street, about 20 metres away. There were children killed and injured on the ground all around.  I found my sister’s son, Mohammed (age 12). He was badly injured and died two days later. Then I found my daughter Mila (four). She was badly injured and was taken to the hospital, but when I went to the hospital about an hour later, I found that she had died shortly after … then I saw my daughter Lujan (nine), she was dead.” 

Jaber Nader Abu Jayab’s son Ahmed (seven) was badly injured but survived. 

Five days after the attack, Rajaa Radwan, ten, told Amnesty: 

“I was playing at table football … I told my friends to continue and I went to the shop next door and then went home … I was lucky that I was not injured, but my friends Raghad and Shahd were both killed.”

Mohammed Jaber Issa, a 35-year-old science teacher who lost relatives in the attack, told Amnesty that Shahd Odatallah, 11, was killed as she visited the supermarket to buy biscuits: “She died while holding a piece of ma’moul [biscuit] in her hand.”

Mohammed Jaber Issa added: 

“One of the children killed in the strike fled al-Tuffah neighbourhood in Gaza City. He fled hunger there only to be met by death here.”

Mahmud Shanaa, 37, who was injured in the attack, told Amnesty: 

“The children and those around them were killed because the missile landed so near the table football. There are always lots of children around the table football. Children don’t have anywhere else to go play, and now with the dangers of the war they don’t go far and play outside their homes.”

Responding to CNN, the Israeli military initially said it had struck a “terror target” in al-Maghazi but declined to provide any additional details or evidence. They later said they had no record of the attack. The Israeli military also declined to answer questions regarding the nature of the target, or whether any fighters were killed.

Rafah: two strikes in two days kill 29 civilians 

On 19 April at approximately 10:15pm, an aircraft bomb struck the four-storey home of the Abu Radwan family in the Tal al-Sultan district in western Rafah, killing nine members of the family - six children, two women and a man - and injuring five other relatives (three children, a man and a woman). The attack also injured a woman and her daughter from another family who lived in the house next door. Subhi Abu Radwan, a 72-year-old retired civil servant, survived the attack. One of his sons and daughter-in-law, a daughter, and six of his grandchildren were killed. 

Subhi Abu Radwan told Amnesty:

“I was still awake when the strike happened, while my children and grandchildren were already asleep. I was downstairs and did not hear an explosion, but became aware of the strike as the house shook and everything became full of dust and rubble. I started to scream for help and neighbours and rescuers came and helped us. The missile came through the roof, on the third floor and went down to the second floor where it exploded, killing everyone there … I did not know who was dead or alive until later at the hospital. It was then that I discovered how many had died. The dead and the injured were found outside in the rubble; they had been thrown out of the building by the force of the explosion.”

Nisrine Saleh - a 40-year-old teacher and another daughter-in-law of Subhi Abu Radwan’s who was injured in the attack - told Amnesty:

“I was unable to move for several days after the strike. Doctors told me that I damaged my vertebrae, and I feared that I would remain paralysed but thankfully I am beginning to recover some mobility … I still cannot fathom fully what has happened to our family. Our family was destroyed for no reason.”  

From photographs of bomb fragments recovered at the scene, Amnesty’s weapons expert identified the munition as an MPR 500, a 500lb bomb made by the Israeli company IMI. Remnants of the bomb’s precision guidance package were marked with a CAGE code of 0UVG2, indicating at least a portion was manufactured by AeroAntenna, a US defence contractor based in California. Amnesty reviewed 17 photographs and a video of the attack site taken at the scene by Amnesty’s fieldworkers. The pattern of damage at the Abu Radwan house is consistent with an aircraft bomb of this size. Analysis of satellite imagery of the site shows changes and damage to the roof between 16 and 20 April, which is consistent with ground photos and witness accounts.

The following day, 20 April, an attack at approximately 11:20pm destroyed the Abdelal family home in the al-Jneinah district in eastern Rafah, killing 20 family members - 16 children and four women - and injuring two other children. The victims were all asleep. The only survivors are three fathers of the children, a grandfather and some of the children who were sitting in the reception room at the entrance of the family farm, approximately 100 metres from the house. Hussein Abdelal, the owner of the house, lost his mother, his two wives and ten of his children (aged from 18 months to 16 years) in the attack.

Hussein Abdelal told Amnesty:

“I keep looking in the rubble for whatever I can find from my mother and my children. Their bodies were torn to shreds. I found shreds, body parts of my children, I found them without heads. It’s inhumane, it [the bomb] destroyed everything, our lives, our homes, even the animals were killed … Why did they treat us so inhumanely? We have nothing to do with anything, have not done anything wrong … I still cannot fathom what happened.”

The collapsed floors and massive structural damage to the Abdelal home, analysed by Amnesty from 14 photographs and three videos taken at the scene by its fieldworkers, are consistent with an aircraft bomb. Analysis of satellite imagery of the site shows destruction caused between 7:03am on 20 April and 11:51am on 21 April.

Pattern of attacks

Since October, Amnesty has conducted in-depth investigations into 16 Israeli airstrikes that killed a total of 370 civilians, including 159 children, and left hundreds more wounded. In these investigations Amnesty has found evidence of war crimes by Israeli forces against civilians or indiscriminate attacks, as well as other unlawful attacks and collective punishment of the civilian population. Amnesty has also documented violations of international law by Hamas and other armed groups on and since 7 October, including the deliberate killing of civilians, hostage-taking and the launching of indiscriminate rockets on Israel. Amnesty is calling on Hamas and other armed groups to unconditionally release all civilians still held hostage in Gaza. Amnesty has extensively documented violations of international law by Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza, including torture and ill-treatment and indiscriminate rocket attacks into Israel.

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