Israel's war on Gaza the deadliest in recent history: Experts

AP , Ahram Online , Saturday 23 Dec 2023

The Israeli war in Gaza, experts say, now sits among the deadliest and most destructive in recent history, outpacing Allied bombings of Germany during World War II, and turning "earth to liquid".

Smoke rises to the sky after an explosion in Gaza Strip as seen from Southern Israel, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2023. Photo: AP


In just over two months, the war has wreaked more destruction than the razing of Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016, Ukraine’s Mariupol or, proportionally, the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II.

It has killed more civilians than the U.S.-led coalition did in its three-year campaign against the Islamic State group.

The Israeli occupation army has said little about what kinds of bombs and artillery it is using in Gaza. But from blast fragments found on-site and analyses of strike footage, experts are confident that the vast majority of bombs dropped on the besieged Palestinian territory are U.S.-made. They say the weapons include 2,000-pound (900-kilogram) “bunker-busters” that have killed hundreds in densely populated areas.

Israel has killed at least 20,057 people, including 7,700 Palestinian children. Women and children make up around 70 percent of the dead, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which also says that 1.9 million people have been displaced, equivalent to 85 percent of the population. 

The Biden administration has quietly continued to supply arms to Israel. Last week, however, President Joe Biden publicly acknowledged that Israel was losing international legitimacy for what he called its “indiscriminate bombing.”

Here’s a look at what is known so far about Israel’s war on Gaza.


Israel’s attacks have destroyed over two-thirds of all structures in northern Gaza and a quarter of buildings in the southern area of Khan Younis, according to an analysis of Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite data by Corey Scher of the CUNY Graduate Center and Jamon Van Den Hoek of Oregon State University, experts in mapping damage during wartime.

The percentage of damaged buildings in the Khan Younis area nearly doubled in just the first two weeks of Israel’s southern offensive, they said.

That includes tens of thousands of homes as well as schools, hospitals, mosques and stores. U.N. monitors have said that about 70% of school buildings across Gaza have been damaged. At least 56 damaged schools served as shelters for displaced civilians.

Israeli strikes damaged 110 mosques and three churches, the monitors said.

“Gaza is now a different color from space. It’s a different texture,” said Scher, who has worked with Van Den Hoek to map destruction across several war zones, from Aleppo to Mariupol.


By some measures, destruction in Gaza has outpaced Allied bombings of Germany during World War II.

Between 1942 and 1945, the allies attacked 51 major German cities and towns, destroying about 40-50% of their urban areas, said Robert Pape, a U.S. military historian. Pape said this amounted to 10% of buildings across Germany, compared to over 33% across Gaza, a densely populated territory of just 140 square miles (360 square kilometers).

“Gaza is one of the most intense civilian punishment campaigns in history,” said Pape. “It now sits comfortably in the top quartile of the most devastating bombing campaigns ever.”

The U.S.-led coalition’s 2017 assault to expel the Islamic State group from the Iraqi city of Mosul was considered one of the most intense attacks on a city in generations. That nine-month battle killed around 10,000 civilians, a third of them from coalition bombardment, according an Associated Press investigation at the time.

During the 2014-2017 military operations in Iraq, the US coalition carried out nearly 15,000 strikes across the country, according to Airwars, a London-based independent group that tracks recent conflicts. By comparison, the Israeli army said last week it has conducted 22,000 strikes in Gaza.

The Washington Post analyzed satellite imagery, airstrike data and U.N. damage assessments, and interviewed more than 20 aid workers, health-care providers, and experts in munitions and aerial warfare. The evidence shows that Israel has carried out its war in Gaza at a pace and level of devastation that likely exceeds any recent conflict, destroying more buildings, in far less time, than were destroyed during the Syrian regime’s battle for Aleppo from 2013 to 2016 and the U.S.-led campaign to defeat the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria, in 2017.

The Post also found that the Israeli military has conducted repeated and widespread airstrikes in proximity to hospitals, which are supposed to receive special protection under the laws of war. Satellite imagery reviewed by Post reporters revealed dozens of apparent craters near 17 of the 28 hospitals in northern Gaza, where the bombing and fighting were most intense during the first two months of war, including 10 craters that suggested the use of bombs weighing 2,000 pounds, the largest in regular use.

“There’s no safe space. Period,” said Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who visited Gaza on Dec. 4. “I haven’t passed one street where I didn’t see destruction of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals.”


The Israeli occupation army has not specified what it is using. It says every strike is cleared by legal advisers to make sure it complies with international law.

Yet, weapons experts have been able to draw conclusions by analyzing blast fragments found on-site, satellite images and videos circulated on social media. They say the findings offer only a peek into the full scope of the air war.

So far, fragments of American-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) bombs and smaller diameter bombs have been found in Gaza, according to Brian Castner, a weapons investigator with Amnesty International.

The JDAM bombs include precision-guided 1,000- and 2,000-pound (450-kilogram and 900-kilogram) “bunker-busters.”

“It turns earth to liquid,” said Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon defense official and a war crimes investigator for the U.N. “It pancakes entire buildings.”

He said the explosion of a 2,000-pound bomb in the open means “instant death” for anyone within about 30 meters (100 feet). Lethal fragmentation can extend for up to 365 meters (1,200 feet).

In an Oct. 31 strike on the urban refugee camp of Jabalia, experts say a 2,000-pound bomb killed over 100 civilians.

Experts have also identified fragments of SPICE (Smart, Precise Impact, Cost-Effective) 2000-pound bombs, which are fitted with a GPS guidance system to make targeting more precise. Castner said the bombs are produced by the Israeli defense giant Rafael, but a recent State Department release first obtained by The New York Times showed some of the technology had been produced in the United States.

The Israeli army is also dropping unguided “dumb” bombs. Several experts pointed to two photos posted to social media by the Israeli Air Force at the start of the war showing fighter jets stocked with unguided bombs.

“The scale of Palestinian civilian deaths in such a short period of time appears to be the highest such civilian casualty rate in the 21st century,” said Michael Lynk, who served as the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories from 2016 to 2022.


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