ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Reports say IDF soldiers have torched hundreds of buildings in Gaza

Soldiers say method utilized to destroy structures used by terrorists amid shortage of demolition charges, but some claim activity has become gratuitous

Palestinian homes allegedly torched by Israeli soldiers at Bureij refugee camp, central Gaza, January 29, 2024. (Social media/X; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

IDF soldiers battling against the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip have torched hundreds of buildings, making them unfit for use, according to Hebrew media reports citing testimony from troops on the ground.

The Ynet news site reported Thursday that the method was employed to destroy structures used by terrorists due to a shortage of demolition charges. A Haaretz report from the previous day cited soldiers saying it was sometimes done by forces out of revenge.

The IDF said it only approves authorized methods of destroying buildings and that any other activity will be looked into.

According to Ynet, soldiers have burned down buildings that were the homes of terror operatives or where they found weapons as a way to conserve an insufficient supply of demolition explosives. The outlet said the military censor had several times over the past two months prevented it from reporting on that shortage, which became apparent once the IDF realized the scale of terror infrastructure across Gaza and the number of buildings that were being used by gunmen to fight or conceal weapons.

The report said the improvised practice of setting fire to some buildings began in a unit battling in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza. When top commanders of that unit found out, Ynet said, they ordered troops to stop, telling them, “We are not like the terrorists who burned our homes on October 7.”

However, the practice spread to other areas and units, where there has been a mixed response. Some brigade commanders have banned the practice, while other officers see it as acceptable, with one saying: “We do this, at the end of the day, so that the clouds of smoke can be seen far across Gaza and deter the Gaza population.”

He added: “These are houses that were 100% confirmed [as being used for military activity]. Every such house, we first document the weaponry within or the gunmen we’ve killed.”

He noted the high number of such locations that forces have encountered.

“When we say we’re meeting the enemy in every home, it is not a cliche,” said the officer, going on to assess that Hamas has made use of “perhaps tens of thousands” of buildings for combat purposes, including multistory residential buildings.

Footage purportedly from Bureij Refugee Camp showed several buildings ablaze simultaneously.

Another soldier told Ynet the method involves gathering all the furniture together in one room and then setting it alight to cause maximum damage.

The IDF has already used hundreds of tons of engineering explosives in Gaza and in recent weeks purchased tens of thousands of demolition explosives and new mines for use in destroying terror infrastructure, the report said.

Some of that will be used to clear a buffer zone that Israel intends to establish on the Gazan side of the border.

War erupted on October 7 when Hamas-led terrorists attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Some 3,000 attackers who invaded the south of the country from Gaza rampaged through communities, burning and destroying homes, in many cases with victims still inside. Terrorists also abducted 253 people to Gaza, where 132 remain captive, not all of them alive.

Israel responded with a massive military offensive, including a ground incursion, to remove Hamas from power and release the hostages.

Haaretz alleged that soldiers were setting premises alight as a matter of course. The paper alleged that a practice supposed to be used only in isolated cases has become more widespread.

It said soldiers have shared videos on social media of torchings in which they declared that they were revenge for comrades who were killed, or for the October 7 attacks (though soldiers have made such statements when demolishing terror targets, and it was not clear that the cases cited by the report were different).

One commander told the paper that soldiers who take up positions in buildings set them alight when they leave.

“We set them on fire as soon as we move on,” the unnamed officer said.

In one instance, Haaretz said, soldiers who had been using a building left a message written on the wall for another group that was to take their place. It read “We aren’t burning the building so you can use it. When you leave you know what to do.”

A building in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis smolders following fighting between IDF troops and Hamas operatives, January 29, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

The IDF responded to the reports with a statement saying: “Detonation and destruction of buildings are done with approved and appropriate means. Actions done in other ways during the war will be examined.”

Haaretz reported that the US has recently asked Israel to stop destroying public buildings in Gaza, such as schools and medical clinics, saying it will hinder the rehabilitation of the Gaza population after the war concludes (Israel says it does so for structures serving terror groups). As a result, the rate at which buildings are being demolished using engineering methods has been significantly reduced.

Also, forces realized that destroying buildings with explosives or heavy machinery such as bulldozers uses up resources and poses a danger to troops themselves, the report said.

According to the report, the IDF realizes that setting fire to buildings to destroy them could create problems for Israel with Washington and at the International Court of Justice.

In November, UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing Balakrishnan Rajagopal warned Israel’s widespread damage to Gaza buildings could be a war crime.

Israel says it is forced to engage in such destruction due to Hamas hiding behind civilians and regularly fighting from within homes throughout the Strip.

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