Impact of Israeli strike in Gaza akin to chemical weapons, says NGO report | Israel

According to a report analyzing the attack and its impact, an Israeli airstrike on an agrochemical warehouse during last year’s war in Gaza amounted to an “indirect deployment of chemical weapons”.

Incendiary artillery shells fired by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) hit the large warehouse of pharmaceutical and agricultural tools in Khudair in the northern Gaza Strip on May 15, igniting hundreds of tons of pesticides, fertilizers, plastics and nylons. The strike created a toxic plume, which engulfed an area of ​​5.7 km2 and left local residents struggling with health issues, including two reports of miscarriages and signs of environmental damage.

The in-depth investigation, which involved analyzing cellphone and drone and CCTV footage, dozens of interviews with residents and analysis from munitions and fluid dynamics experts, used 3D modeling of the warehouse to determine the circumstances of the attack.

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This is the first publication from Palestinian human rights NGO Al-Haq’s new Forensic Architecture Investigation Unit, a first-of-its-kind collaboration in the Middle East with Forensic Architecture. , a research agency based in Goldsmiths, University of London, which carries out spatial and media analysis for NGOs and in international human rights affairs.

Within the first hour, the toxic plume from the Khudair warehouse had affected an area of ​​around 5.7 km2, with 3,000 homes in its shadow. Photography: Al-Haq and Forensic Architecture

Legal experts concluded from Al-Haq’s findings that while conventional weapons were used in the attack, “bombing the warehouse, knowing of the presence of toxic chemicals stored there, amounts to chemical weapons.” by indirect means. Such acts are clearly prohibited…and prosecutable under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

Chris Cobb-Smith, an ammunition expert, reportedly said, “There is no military justification for [advanced smoke projectiles] to use here. It is inherently imprecise and unsuitable for use in urban environments.

Two hundred and fifty-six people in Gaza and 14 in Israel died in last May’s 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the beleaguered strip. Al-Haq said the strike on the Khudair warehouse was the first in a series of attacks deliberately targeting Gaza’s economic and industrial infrastructure, with half a dozen other factories and warehouses systematically bombed.

A composite image of other factories and warehouses that were also bombed
On May 17, two days after the Khudair warehouse was destroyed, the Fomco sponge factory was similarly attacked, causing a large-scale fire. On the same day, more than half a dozen other factories and warehouses were also bombed, revealing a pattern of targeted strikes. Photography: Al-Haq and Forensic Architecture

The International Criminal Court (ICC) opened an investigation in 2019 into war crimes allegedly committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in Palestinian territory. Israel challenges the jurisdiction of the ICC.

The IDF said in a statement that in response to the onslaught of Hamas attacks, Israel had “carried out a series of strikes on legitimate military targets in the Gaza Strip” last year during what is known as in Israel the Guardian of the Walls operation.

“The IDF is taking all possible precautions to avoid injury to civilians during operational activity,” a spokesman said, adding that “the event in question was ‘under an internal IDF investigation’ to examine if there were any deviations from the binding rules and make necessary adjustments based on lessons learnt”.

A woman living near the now polluted area.
Residents living near the now polluted area described in detail the intense toxic smells their families endured after the bombings and the disastrous consequences on their health. Photography: Al-Haq and Forensic Architecture

Israa Khudair, 20, who lives with her husband and two children 40 meters from the agrochemical warehouse site, suffered a miscarriage in the fifth month of her pregnancy, eight weeks after the attack.

“For months the smell was unbearable, like a car engine mixed with burnt oil, sewage and cooking gas, so of course we knew it could be harmful,” her husband said. , Ihab, 26 years old.

“I’ve had rashes since, just like most people here. We washed the house five times and the furniture, but the smell stayed. It was like oil on the walls… eventually, in winter, the rain washed away much of the rubble from the warehouse.

“We are worried about our health now. One of my cousins, who is only 19, and my aunt too, recently had cancer and we believe it is related to what happened here.

Photos of ammunition collected from the site by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights show the remains of cylindrical cartridges about 15cm wide.
Photos of ammunition collected from the site by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights show the remains of cylindrical cartridges about 15cm wide. Photography: Al-Haq and Forensic Architecture

Last year’s fighting was the third round of large-scale conflict between the Israeli state and Hamas since the group seized control of Gaza in 2007, after which Israel and Egypt imposed a punitive blockade. Since then, the strip’s water, sewage and electricity infrastructure has all but collapsed, leaving Gaza’s 2 million residents struggling to cope with rising levels of air, soil and soil pollution. and water.

Al-Haq, which operates in Gaza and the West Bank, has also come under attack from the Israeli authorities: last year the NGO was one of the six main organizations of civil society and human rights working in the occupied Palestinian territories designated as a terrorist organization. The decision was widely condemned by the UN, Western governments and leading international organizations such as Amnesty International.

Rula Shadeed, head of Al-Haq’s monitoring and documentation department, said in a statement: “Without our professional documentation based on legal standards [Palestinians] cannot call for accountability and justice. The introduction of new methodologies to improve and complete the standard documentation and presentation of our work is very crucial.

“We are very proud that despite the unlawful attacks and the difficult times that Palestinian civil society is facing, we still manage to continue and progress in our work, due to our firm belief in the importance of exposing the violations against our people and to hold the perpetrators accountable. .”