Israel: Gaza Airstrikes Violated Laws of War
|Publisher||Human Rights Watch|
|Publication Date||12 February 2013|
|Cite as||Human Rights Watch, Israel: Gaza Airstrikes Violated Laws of War, 12 February 2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/511e1fb92.html [accessed 26 December 2014]|
At least 18 Israeli airstrikes during the fighting in Gaza in November 2012 were in apparent violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said today after a detailed investigation into the attacks. These airstrikes killed at least 43 Palestinian civilians, including 12 children.
Human Rights Watch field investigations found 14 strikes by aerial drones or other aircraft for which there was no indication of a legitimate military target at the site at the time of the attack. In four other cases, attacks may have targeted Palestinian fighters, but appeared to use indiscriminate means or caused disproportionate harm to civilians. Human Rights Watch did not attempt to investigate all Israeli airstrikes during the eight days of fighting called "Operation Pillar of Defense," from November 14 to 21.
"Israeli forces too often conducted airstrikes that killed Palestinian civilians and destroyed homes in Gaza without apparent legal justification," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch sent detailed information about the cases to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on January 14, 2013, requesting further information. At a meeting on January 24 and in subsequent phone conversations, the military spokesperson's office told Human Rights Watch that the military chief of staff had ordered a general (aluf) to conduct an "operational debriefing" (tahkir mivtza'i) concerning "dozens" of Israeli attacks during the conflict, including the cases Human Rights Watch investigated, which would be completed by late February.
Because previous Israeli "operational debriefings" involving attacks were not conducted by trained military police investigators or dedicated to investigating alleged laws-of-war violations, Human Rights Watch has decided to publish its findings rather than wait for their results.
At least seven of the airstrikes investigated by Human Rights Watch appeared to involve aerial drones launching guided missiles, and at least four appeared to involve fixed-wing aircraft dropping aerial bombs. In the remaining attacks from the air, the type of aircraft or the munition is not clear. As Human Rights Watch previously reported, Palestinian armed groups launched hundreds of inherently indiscriminate rockets against Israeli population centers in violation of the laws of war. Whatever the weapon used and the conduct of the other side, the laws of war are applicable and parties to the conflict are obliged to respect them.
Several Israeli missiles and a bomb struck civilians and civilian objects, such as houses and farm groves, without any apparent military objective, Human Rights Watch said. Under the laws of war, only military objectives – belligerent forces or objects that make an effective contribution to military action – may be targeted.
Human Rights Watch investigations found that Israeli drone strikes on November 19 killed three men in a truck carrying tomatoes in Deir al-Balah, and a science teacher who was sitting in his front yard with his 3-year-old son on his lap, talking to an acquaintance – only the toddler survived, but was seriously wounded.
Other drone-launched missile attacks killed a 79-year-old man and his 14-year-old granddaughter in the family's olive grove in Abasan; a farmer and his nephew as they were walking on a road near their olive trees in the Khan Yunis area; and a 28-year-old woman carrying a blanket in the yard of her home in the town of Khuza'a.
An aerial bomb destroyed the two-story cinderblock home of the Hijazi family in Jabalya on November 19, killing the father, two of his children ages 4 and 2, and wounding his wife and four other children.
An Israeli Hellfire missile struck a hospital in Gaza City on November 19, puncturing the roof and cutting electricity and water. There were no casualties. Hospitals are protected objects under the laws of war unless being used for military purposes and targeted after giving a warning.
Human Rights Watch's field investigations of these attacks found no evidence of Palestinian fighters, weaponry, or other apparent military objectives at the time of the attack. Individuals who deliberately order or take part in attacks targeting civilians or civilian objects are responsible for war crimes.
Several other strikes may have been targeting military objectives, but the harm to civilians and civilian objects appears disproportionate, Human Rights Watch said. The laws of war prohibit attacks in which the expected loss of civilian life and property exceeds the anticipated military gain.
An aerial bomb that may have targeted a member of Hamas's armed wing on November 20 killed him but also destroyed his family's house in Rafah, killed his 17-year-old brother, blinded their father's wife, and wounded six of their siblings. A Hellfire missile strike that may have been targeting the home of a member of a Palestinian armed group killed at least three civilians and wounded at least 20 others, many of them outside on a crowded street. The alleged militant was not at home at the time.
The weapon systems used by Israeli forces in Gaza should have enabled the crews operating them to minimize civilian casualties, Human Rights Watch said. Parties to a conflict have an obligation under the laws of war to take all feasible precautions to reduce the risk to civilians. Israeli drones can fly over areas for many hours, and carry an array of advanced sensors, often combining radar, electro-optical cameras, infrared cameras, and lasers. These sensors can provide a clear image in real time of people on the ground, day and night. The missiles that drones launch also have cameras that relay real-time video after the missiles have been fired to the drone operators, who can divert the missile away if doubts arise about the target. In all the cases involving drones that Human Rights Watch investigated, drone operators should have been able to hold their fire once they saw civilians would be hit, Human Rights Watch said.
The use of Hellfire missiles, fragments of which were found at the scene of two attacks, suggests that some Israeli attacks were carried out by helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft using precision-guided laser or radar. The high accuracy of these weapons systems and the absence of major fighting in the vicinity of the airstrikes would increase the likelihood that the Israeli forces carrying out the attacks had a clear sighting of the target and could decrease the chance of error.
Israeli spokespersons have repeatedly said that during "Operation Pillar of Defense" Israeli forces targeted only members of Palestinian armed groups. But, with a few exceptions, they have not commented upon or explained specific attacks that killed civilians in Gaza.
The attack that caused the largest number of civilian deaths was the bombing of the Dalu family home on November 18, which killed 12 civilians. Since Human Rights Watch's previous coverageof the airstrike in which we reported that two posters showed Mohamed al-Dalu, one of those killed, as a Qassam Brigade member, an online forum, purportedly from the Qassam Brigade, described him as a fighter. No information is provided as to the role of al-Dalu, a police sergeant, in the armed group. If al-Dalu were a valid military target and the intended target of the strike, the attack on the home nonetheless raises concerns that it caused disproportionate loss of civilian life and property.
Israeli spokespersons said that the attack targeted a member of a Palestinian armed group but it has provided no information to show that the man was a legitimate military target, nor published the findings of a promised investigation following the attack.
Israel also has not provided information that would justify other attacks previously documented by Human Rights Watch: a probable drone strike that killed two TV cameramen, a missile strike on a media office that killed a 2-year-old boy, and a third missile strike that wounded seven media workers, one seriously.
The laws of war obligate governments to investigate credible allegations of serious violations. The drones deployed by the Israeli military have video-recording devices so that everything viewed by the operator is recorded. Thus, every Israeli drone missile strike in Gaza would be registered on video and available to assist an investigation.
In one case, on November 21, a drone-launched missile killed a farmer, his son and his 11-year-old daughter as they were gathering mint in the family's garden in northern Gaza.
"The burden is on the Israeli military to show that attacks killing large numbers of civilians were lawful," Whitson said. "The victims' families deserve to know why their loved ones died."
Apparently Unlawful Airstrikes During the November 2012 Fighting
The following 13 cases are among the 18 apparently unlawful aerial attacks committed by Israeli forces in Gaza in November 2012 that Human Rights Watch documented. Human Rights Watch has reported on the five remaining cases previously. In 14 of the 18 cases, there was no apparent military objective, and in four others, Israeli forces conducted attacks that appeared not to discriminate between combatants or civilians or caused disproportionate civilian harm. The Israeli military did not answer questions from Human Rights Watch about the specific strikes, but said it was conducting an "operational debriefing" and would release the results of its review by late February.
Attacks with No Apparent Military Objective
Al-Asaly Family, Beit Lahiya Area
On November 21, at about 3:00 p.m. in the Saftawi area in northern Gaza, an apparent missile struck near the al-Asaly home, instantly killing Talal al-Asaly, a 48-year-old farmer, and two of his children, Ayman, 19, and Abeer, 11, while they were collecting mint from the garden behind their house. Family members and neighbors said that as far as they were aware there was no militant activity in the area at the time.
Talal's wife, Tamam al-Asaly, told Human Rights Watch:
We finished our lunch and I was going to make some tea, so he said "I'll go get some mint and come back." I heard the explosion and felt it was so near. I put a scarf on my head. I saw the three of them lying on the ground. I passed out when I saw that scene. It was the first explosion in the area. I never saw any resistance [fighters] here.
A relative and neighbor, Nadi al-Asaly, also said he had not seen any Palestinian fighters in the area at that time or before. "I saw smoke on that side and I saw my cousin with his head off of his shoulders, and Abeer and Ayman lying on the ground," he said. Nadi's son Zakaria, 15, was wounded by shrapnel in the chest, because he was out back filling a barrel with water when the attack took place, Nadi al-Asaly said.
Human Rights Watch inspected the garden where the three family members were killed – an open plot about 70 meters by 20 meters with only mint growing. A small hole, about eight centimeters in diameter, was in the ground in the middle of the plot where family members said the munition had hit.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not make any announcements about strikes in Saftawi at the time. An Israeli organization with links to the IDF, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, stated in a December 16, 2012 report that the three al-Asaly family members killed by the strike were "non-involved" civilians.
At 7:30 a.m. on November 19, an Israeli missile struck a Mercedes truck driving on al-Birkeh Street in Deir al Balah, in the Middle Area of the Gaza Strip. The attack killed Tamer Rushdi Bashir, 31, a farmer with three children, who was driving, and his cousin, Amin Zohdi Bashir, 41, a farmer with two daughters, in the passenger seat. The missile also killed Rashid Alian Abu Amra, 51, the father of 11 children, who had asked for a ride to work and was sitting in the truck cab behind the other two men.
Human Rights Watch observed a small crater in the street where witnesses said the missile hit the truck, small holes caused in nearby walls and telephone poles by fragments from the blast, and the remains of the truck's cab. The damage was consistent with the fragmentation sleeve of a drone-launched missile, which consists of small, cube-shaped pieces of dense metal. Witnesses said they heard drones overhead at the time of the attack, and later saw a helicopter hovering low over the ocean while they retrieved the bodies.
Tamer Bashir's father, Rushdi, 55, and Amin Bashir's brother, Mohamed, 35, separately told Human Rights Watch that Tamer was driving the truck with Amin to a greenhouse and that the truck contained nothing but tomatoes. "They had filled it half-full with tomatoes the night before, and they were going to fill it completely before going to the market," Rushdi Bashir said. Relatives and residents of the area told Human Rights Watch that the men had no affiliation to any armed groups.
Rashid Abu Amra's widow, Ghalia, 50, said that he had left the house at 7 a.m. that day to travel to his job as a guard at a farm: "The job was a two-month contract with the [Gaza] Ministry of Agriculture. Before the [hostilities] there were usually taxis for him to take. But people told me that there weren't any in the street that morning, so he got a ride from Bashir." Abu Amra's widow and other relatives said that he was not involved with any armed group.
Mohamed Bashir, who owns a fertilizer shop about 300 meters from the site, witnessed the attack: "There were just a few cars on the road, no other trucks. I saw the cab [of the truck] explode and the roof fly off. I ran over and I saw my cousin [Tamer]. Then I went over to the other side of the truck and saw Amin's body. I fainted. They were already dead. They had lost their arms, their legs."
Abdallah Loh, a 55-year-old farmer who lives about 100 meters away from the attack site, said the explosion woke him up. "I was worried about my home so I ran out to look. I saw one [body] on one side [of the truck] and one on the other [side]. [The missile] hit right in the middle of the cab. The driver lost his right side, the passenger lost his left side." The third victim, Abu Amra, "was still alive when I pulled him out [of the cab], but he died in the ambulance," Loh said.
An Israeli organization with links to the IDF, the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, stated in a December 16, 2012 report that Amin and Tamer Bashir and Rashid Abu Amra were all Islamic Jihad "terrorist operatives" based on unspecified information that it said was found on the internet. The Terrorism Information Center on January 27 reaffirmed the claim in an email to Human Rights Watch, but did not provide specific information about the case. Armed groups did not list the men's names among with those of other fighters who had been killed. Evidence from field investigations indicates the men were civilians.
All the residents of the area whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said that there were no members of Palestinian armed groups, rocket launches, or other military activity in the area at the time of the attack.
Khan Yunis, Ma'an Area
A drone-launched missile strike killed Mahmud Said Abu Khater, 34, and Abdallah Harb Abu Khater, 21, at 9:30 a.m. on November 19, in the Ma'an area in the Khan Yunis governorate of Gaza. Shrapnel from the strike wounded Mahmud's 3-year-old son, Anas.
Mahmud Abu Khater, who taught ninth-grade science at the Awda School in the town of Abasan, was killed while sitting outside his front door, holding Anas in his lap and talking to Abdallah, who was standing on the road outside Mahmud's gate.
Abdallah, a university student and a distant relative of Mahmud's who lived 200 meters away, had come to talk to Mahmud about pooling money for a purchase. "Mahmud had gone to the bank that morning, and then he called Abdallah. Five minutes later, the missile hit," said Arwa, 27, Mahmud's wife. "Mahmud was home that day because the schools were all closed during the war."
Mahmud's brother, Khaled Said Abu Khater, 41, described the aftermath:
Mahmud was sitting against the front wall of his house, eating clementines with Anas. I was the first on the scene after the explosion. I found him leaning sideways. I put him on the ground and gave him CPR, but blood came out of his nose. Abdallah was face down in the street. He was hit on the back and right sides. He wasn't carrying anything, he was just walking, not riding on a bicycle or motorcycle.
Khaled said that the toddler, Anas, had suffered serious internal injuries, "but the only external wounds were small holes, like a needle, on his belly." Anas was later transferred to Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot, Israel. His mother, Arwa, said that doctors had removed 25 pieces of shrapnel in his stomach and intestines, and that he had not regained consciousness.
The missile apparently exploded behind Abdallah. Human Rights Watch observed a hole in the dirt road caused by the missile strike and thin copper wires and pieces of circuit-board nearby, and counted more than 200 small holes apparently caused by fragments in the cinderblock walls of Mahmud's home, and in metal fence posts. Several small cube-shaped fragments, several millimeters on each side, had lodged in the metal poles. The fragments, the small diameter of the hole, the injuries, and other evidence were consistent with a drone-launched missile.
Mahmud's other son, Moaz, 5, was also outside. "My father asked me to go inside to get a tissue," Moaz said. "I did, and that's when the missile killed him."
The area is open, with few trees, and the Abu Khaters should have been clearly visible to drone operators, Human Rights Watch said. Residents said there were no Palestinian fighters in the area at the time. Israeli airstrikes hit a house 600 or 800 meters away during the eight-days of fighting, and small missiles hit the Islamic University, several hundred meters away, twice without injuring anyone, on November 17 and 18, they said.
The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center told Human Rights Watch that Mahmud and Abdallah Abu Khater were "Hamas terrorist operatives" based on information that it said was available on the internet. The group published photographs of the men that it said were taken from the Facebook page of the Hamas public activities network in Khan Yunis. The Facebook page refers to the men as "martyrs" from the Khan Yunis area but does not identify them as fighters. The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center on January 27 reaffirmed its claim in an email to Human Rights Watch, but did not provide specific information about the case. Armed groups did not list the men's names along with those of other fighters who had been killed. Evidence from field investigations indicates the men were civilians.
Mahmud's other brother, Faiz Said Abu Khater, 46, told Human Rights Watch: "We have no idea why they were killed. They had no relation to any political party. The resistance was shooting rockets from more than a kilometer away, not here."
Abasan al-Kabira, Khan Yunis Governorate
At about 12:20 p.m. on November 21, a drone-launched missile struck the Abu Nasser family's olive grove in Abasan al-Kabira, killing Ibrahim Abu Nasser, 79, and his granddaughter Amira Abu Nasser, 14. The attack wounded Ibrahim's son, Mohamed Abu Nasser, 42, who was near his father.
Mohamed told Human Rights Watch that during the two weeks before the fighting began on November 14, his father came daily at 8 a.m. to harvest olives on their two dunam (0.2 hectare) plot in their residential neighborhood: "There were only a few trees left to harvest. My father was always here at 8 a.m. The day it happened, a Wednesday, I'd woken up early to help him. He's too old to climb the ladder. We just had a plastic bag and sheet to harvest the olives." No one else was in the olive grove at the time, he said.
At around noon, Mohamed Abu Nasser said, his niece, Amira, came to ask the men if they wanted to come inside for lunch:
My father replied that he'd come in after praying [the midday prayer]. He was on the ground praying when a missile hit him. It was a direct hit. I had climbed up the ladder 10 minutes before. I was just two meters away from him. I saw my father killed. I saw my niece and she was on the ground. [The blast] injured me but I didn't know it. I climbed down. I called the ambulance.
Mohamed was wounded in the ankle, right arm, back, waist, and hips; pieces of shrapnel remain in his right leg below the knee. He was treated at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis.
Mohamed Ibrahim Abu Nasser, 35, a cousin, told Human Rights Watch that he was around 150 meters away when the missile hit: "I saw smoke and came running. Abu Sami [Ibrahim Abu Nasser] was killed and his head was separated from his body, which was left in pieces on the plastic he'd put down to pray on. An ambulance came, and to save time we carried Mohamed to the main road. Then we evacuated the area."
Mohamed Abu Nasser's injuries, the wounds that killed his father and niece, and small holes Human Rights Watch observed in the ladder Mohamed was standing on at the time of the attack, were consistent with fragments from a drone-launched missile.
Further Israeli airstrikes hit the olive grove later that afternoon, at around 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., residents said. Human Rights Watch observed fragments of large aerial bombs and two large craters in the olive grove.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on its website at 2 p.m. that the IDF said it had "hit three terrorists launching rockets in Khan Younis," but the IDF did not publish specific information, and it was not clear if the statement referred to the attack that killed members of the Abu Nasser family.
No members of armed groups were reported to have been killed or injured in the immediate area of the attack.
Residents told Human Rights Watch that there were no members of armed groups in the area at the time and that the residents were not using the olive grove to launch or store rockets, or for any other military purpose. The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center stated that Ibrahim and Amira Abu Nasser were "non-involved" civilians.
An apparent missile killed Abdallah Ibrahim and Mohammed Abu Adwan, both 18, at 5:30 p.m. on November 21, as they were walking along the "old airport road" in Rafah.
Abdullah Ibrahim's father, Talaat Ibrahim, 47, andstepmother, Hanan Ibrahim, 30, and Mohammed Abu Adwan's cousin, Eid Abu Adwan, 19, said the two youths were working at Talaat's home building an addition to the structure until the evening call to prayer sounded, when they went to buy food.
Eid Abu Adwan, a steelworker, said that he and the two youths went together to the Riyadh Abu Taha market. Eid told Human Rights Watch:
Five minutes later Abdallah asked if anyone wanted to come with him to another market [across the street] because they owed him money. No one wanted to, so he left alone. After he had walked about 10 meters Mohamed went after him. They must have walked about 70 meters, around a corner, when the drone [missile] hit. They were dead immediately. We heard the explosion and called them on the phone but they didn't answer.
Eid Abu Adwan and a friend, Abd al-Latif Abu al-Gershain, 19, found the bodies of Abdallah and Mohammed on the street together: "Abdallah was hit with shrapnel in his left leg and arm and the left side of his neck. Mohammed's left eye came out of his head."
Waleed Abu Sunaima, 46, who owns a store about 30 meters from where the youths were killed, said that people in his store witnessed the attack. "They ran into the store," he said. "We were afraid to leave until the ambulance came, because we thought another missile might hit."
Human Rights Watch observed photographs of the bodies of the two youths, small holes in the wall at the strike area, and metal fragments, which are consistent with a small missile.
Abdallah Ibrahim was a student at the Abu Yusef al-Najjar Secondary School in Rafah; Mohammed Abu Adwan had graduated from the same school and planned to study art at the Islamic University in Gaza City. Neither was a member of an armed group, according to their friends and relatives, and no members of armed groups were in the area at the time of the attack, residents said.
The IDF did not publish specific information about attacks in the area at the time. The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center stated that the two casualties were "non-involved" civilians.
A drone-launched missile killed Ibrahim al-Astal, 48, and Omar al-Astal, 14, his nephew, on Ibrahim's land in the Khan Yunis governorate shortly after 8 a.m. on November 19. Shrapnel from the blast struck 3-year-old Rawa al-Lahaam in the head, causing a brain injury, while she was in the courtyard of her family's home nearby.
Ibrahim al-Astal, who had been a guard at the Bilal Bin Rabab School, east of Deir al Balah, had been working with Omar al-Astal that morning on a plot of land planted with two-year-old olive trees, residents said. Ayman Abu Oweili, 42, a former employee of the Palestinian Authority, was harvesting spinach and eggplant on land nearby. He told Human Rights Watch:
[Ibrahim and Omar] had just left their land and were walking down the road, just behind me. I heard them joking together. Ibrahim was 10 meters behind me. Suddenly I heard an explosion, I turned around and they were on the ground. The boy said "Help me," once.
Abu Oweili said he called for an ambulance at 8:10 a.m.
Fragments from the explosion penetrated the fenced courtyard of the home of Maher and Islam al-Lahaam, where their daughter, Rawa, was sitting. Islam, 21, told Human Rights Watch:
There were lots of drones that morning. It was the first attack in this area. I had gone inside to the kitchen to get food and I asked Rawa to stay outside. When I heard a sound I came out, she was injured in her head. I also saw two people lying in the road. I recognized Ibrahim, he was wearing a red hat and a jacket. They weren't carrying anything. Every day I dream of the attack.
Rawa was being treated at the brain and nerve department of the European hospital in Khan Yunis at the time Human Rights Watch visited her home.
Human Rights Watch observed numerous small holes in the thin fencing material and cinderblock walls of the Lahaams' home that were consistent with fragments from a drone-launched missile.
Witnesses consistently said that there were no other airstrikes in the area during the escalation. "I wasn't scared to be out in the fields," Abu Oweili said. "There are no big trees here, they could easily see us [from aircraft]." Al-Lahaam said that her parents had been planning to stay with her, for safety, because there had never been rockets fired from the area.
The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center told Human Rights Watch that Ibrahim al-Astal was a "Hamas terrorist operative" based on unspecified information it said was available on the internet. The Terrorism Information Center on January 27 reaffirmed its claim in an email to Human Rights Watch, but did not provide specific information about the case. Armed groups did not list al-Astal's name among with those of other fighters who had been killed. Evidence from field investigations indicates he was a civilian.
Residents said they were not aware of any fighters in the area at the time, and that the two men were not affiliated with any armed groups. The IDF did not publish information about strikes in the area at the time.
Shokki area, Rafah governorate
An unidentified munition, most likely a missile based on the circumstances of the attack, killed Mahmud al-Arja and Ibrahim Hamad, both 16, at around 4:45 p.m. on November 20, in a field about 700 meters from the Israeli perimeter fence east of Rafah, in southern Gaza.
The boys had been preparing a trap for birds, their relatives said. Mahmud's uncle, Tawfiq al-Arja, 46, said that after 'Asr prayers, around 3:30, "they cleaned the net in the street by [Mahmud's] house and went down to the land, reaching it maybe 20 minutes later. They went to get the net ready for the morning." Mahmud's father, Khalil al-Arja, 42, explained that the net consisted of strings, "like a fishing net, about six meters long, laid out on the ground. There were no poles or anything else." The two boys – childhood friends who had both dropped out of school – would prepare the net one day, he said, "and the next day they would go put a female hassoun bird on top of the net as a lure."
Fatmeh Abu Sneim, 35, a resident of the area, witnessed the attack. She told Human Rights Watch:
I was at home with my sister. There were lots of drones in the sky. It was after the Maghreb prayer, on a clear afternoon, there were no clouds. We had been watching the boys for 10 minutes, we were surprised to see them there so late. They were the only two in the area. They had been working on the ground and had just stood up, it seemed they were about to leave when there was an explosion and we couldn't see them anymore.
Residents said that no Palestinian armed groups were in the area where the boys were killed. Human Rights Watch visited the site, an open, exposed area from which the Israeli perimeter was visible. About 20 people had been in the area where the boys were killed earlier in the day, residents said. The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center stated that the two boys were "non-involved" civilians.
Palestinian ambulances were unable to reach the boys for hours, relatives said, because they could not obtain "coordination" with the Israeli military to reach the area near the border where the bodies were. Khalil al-Arja said an ambulance arrived at around 5 p.m., but, "He waited for coordination for an hour and a half, then went back to [Abu Yusef Najjar] hospital [in Rafah camp]. My older brother, Ismail, was in the hospital and he arranged for another coordination. But the ambulance came a second time, waited another two hours and gave up." A third ambulance finally received coordination shortly after 11 p.m., residents said.
Tawfiq al-Arja said that after the attack, "I went with the medics and collected Mahmud's pieces. Only his head was in one piece. We put the pieces of him in a sack. His mother wanted to see his head so we tied it tightly to the sack." Ibrahim Hamad's brother, Ashraf, 27, said that the explosion had almost severed Ibrahim's legs. "He was also hit in his brain, neck and shoulder. His body had fallen over Mahmud's."
Abasan al-Jedida, Khan Yunis Governorate
A drone-launched missile fatally injured Ahmad Awad Mahmud Abu Aliyan, 14, and seriously wounded his uncle, Sliman Abu Aliyan, on an agricultural plot in Abasan al-Jedida at around 2:30 p.m. on November 15. Ahmad, a 10th grade student at Awda secondary school in Abasan, died on November 21 from a head wound.
The missile struck the man and the teenager in a grove of olive and clementine trees, which Human Rights Watch inspected, about 60 meters into a large agricultural plot south of Abu Anza Street in the residential Abu Taymeh neighborhood.
One resident said that he had heard a rocket launched from the large agricultural plot before the escalation in hostilities on November 14, but was not aware of any rocket launches on November 15. No one else was near Ahmad and Sliman Abu Aliyan during or immediately before the attack, local residents said.
Sliman Abu Aliyan, 64, a farmer who owns the land where the rocket hit, was watching television at home when the electricity cut out at around 2 p.m., he said. He left and rode his bicycle to the land. He told Human Rights Watch:
I rode around until it was time for the 'Asr prayer, at around 2:30 p.m. I entered the land, and started to wash up [for the prayer]. I finished, and I saw Ahmad was there too, about 14 meters away from me. I walked toward him. There were just the two of us there. He was two meters away from me, under a tree, when it hit. He was lying on the ground. I said the confession for him and he passed out. I passed out too. I woke up, walked 10 meters and was shouting, and the neighbors heard me. Ahmad was sent to Nasser hospital [in Khan Yunis]. I went by car to the European hospital. Ahmed was under a tree when the missile hit, he was hit by only three or four shrapnel, and they found more than 100 shrapnel in me. I can still feel the shrapnel in my left hand. It came in the back of his head and out under his eye, and one in the arm and one leg.
Mohamed Abu Taymeh, 19, who lives near the grove and heard the airstrike, recalled that "the sky was full of drones" at the time of the attack, when he was leaving a mosque in the area after prayers. It was the first airstrike in the area, he said: "Other areas had been hit by small missiles but this land hasn't been hit before. Ahmad was the first martyr here." The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center stated that Abu Aliyan was a "non-involved" civilian.
A drone-launched missile killed Samaher al-Qdeih, 28, at about 9 p.m. on November 17, in the courtyard of her home on al-Maqbara Street in the town of Khuza'a, near the Israeli perimeter fence in southeastern Gaza. The strike injured Nidal al-Qdeih, 27 – the son of Samaher's husband's first wife – who was in the yard at the time.
Samaher was with her husband, Naji al-Qdeih, 48, and their two-month-old daughter Mayar, in a one-story cinderblock building when the family heard several airstrikes in the Abasan area, about three kilometers away, family members told Human Rights Watch. Naji and Samaher took their daughter and walked immediately next door, to the home of Naji's first wife, Maha al-Qdeih, for the family to be together.
Maha al-Qdeih, 48, told Human Rights Watch:
It was around 9 p.m. We turned on the news when we heard the airstrikes. My son Nidal was outside [in the yard], listening to the radio on his mobile phone, with the headphones in. And Samaher went back to the front building to get a blanket. We were sitting indoors and suddenly the glass and dust and blast was raining down inside. We're still coughing from the smoke. We started screaming and went outside. She had died immediately. Her body was in pieces. She was just carrying a blanket for herself and her daughter.
Nidal had been sitting next to a tree in the yard, and was partly shielded from the blast by two large blue plastic water tanks, which were perforated by small holes. The tree trunk and the wall of the building also had small holes consistent with fragments from a drone-launched missile. Human Rights Watch observed a small hole in the ground near the wall of the house, and remnants of a missile in the yard.
When Human Rights Watch visited the Qdeih home, family members said that Nidal was being treated at al-Ahli Hospital in Cairo for burns on his left arm and leg, shrapnel in his chest, and a broken right leg from the attack. Nidal's father had gone to Egypt to accompany him.
The family evacuated their home after the attack. "We were too scared to come back for four days," Maha said. "People told us to run away, because they'd hit the house again." There were no other attacks in the immediate area. The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center stated that Qdeih was a "non-involved" civilian.