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Israel’s military has laid waste to much of northern Gaza, badly damaging more than half of the buildings and large swaths of entire neighbourhoods during its 42 day offensive, according to analysis of satellite data.
Videos from social media, television reporters embedded with the military and from the IDF itself show a devastated landscape, with the wreckage of once-busy streets, marketplaces, schools and mosques largely devoid of Palestinians.
The full extent of that damage has been estimated using radar signals collected from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellite. Corey Scher of the CUNY Graduate Center and Jamon Van Den Hoek of Oregon State University used algorithms to calculate how many buildings have sustained damage to at least 50 per cent of their structure since the war began.
The data shows that Israel’s damage to Gaza’s infrastructure has largely followed the path of its ground invasion, clustering around targets it has publicly identified as essential to its military goals.
Israel is now turning its focus east into Gaza City and further into southern Gaza. Over the weekend, Palestinians reported heavy bombardments in Zeitoun and the Jabalia refugee camp, and the UN said several explosions had taken place at schools where civilians were sheltering.
Israel’s defence minister vowed this weekend that the war would spread to the rest of Gaza soon. “People who were on the western side of the city have already encountered the IDF’s lethal strength,” he told KAN Radio. “People who are on the eastern side understand that this evening. People who are in the southern Gaza Strip will understand that soon as well.”
North Gaza and Gaza districts
Israeli troops invaded Gaza through the north, preceded by a rolling barrage of aerial bombardment. In videos posted online, large fireballs arced towards the sky as tanks and armoured vehicles moved in.
Fortified bulldozers cleared large swaths of land to set up the IDF’s forward bases and large numbers of infantry followed, moving through largely deserted small towns, such as Beit Hanoun.
More than a month later, nearly half of the North Gaza district’s structures have been badly damaged, the analysis of radar data suggests.
But the northern edges of the Gaza Strip were just a staging ground for Israel’s foray into Gaza City. The damage analysis shows that as Israeli troops moved towards their primary target — the al-Shifa hospital — they cut a path through the neighbourhoods en route, especially the al-Shati refugee camp, where the Doha-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh once lived.
The IDF destroyed Haniyeh’s home not once, but twice — first with a bulldozer, then with an air strike. The radar data shows that just 30 per cent of the camp remains intact.
The IDF then hugged the coastline on its route to al-Shifa hospital, meeting up with troops that had encircled Gaza City from the south. That southern movement similarly damaged much along its path.
Israeli troops are now operating east of those locations, the only places in Gaza City that are relatively undamaged. Palestinians reported heavy fighting in Zeitoun and further inland on Saturday and in the last few days tens of thousands of civilians have continued to flee south on a road controlled by IDF soldiers.
Deir al-Balah and Khan Younis districts
Deir al-Balah, a southern stretch of the Gaza Strip dotted with date palms and horse-breeding farms, has been relatively unscathed so far. It is home to farmers and the country estates of wealthier families, and is less populated than the dense warrens of Gaza City and its packed refugee camps.
But to the south-east lies Khan Younis, where the Israeli military has already indicated it intends to expand operations. Earlier this week, residents of four neighbourhoods — home to over 100,000 people — awoke to find thousands of leaflets from the IDF ordering them to vacate their homes.
Israeli officials have told their western counterparts that they suspect Hamas leaders are now hiding south of the evacuation line that they ordered Palestinians to cross for their own safety. US and European officials have cautioned Israel to be more “precise and targeted” in its operations, especially to reduce civilian casualties.
Nearly all of Gaza’s 2.3mn civilian population is now living in southern Gaza below the evacuation line, a forced migration that Palestinians liken to that of the Nakba — which means “catastrophe” in Arabic — during Israel’s creation in 1948. Large tent cities have been erected to house them, with dozens of people sharing apartments.
Food and water are scarce and electricity is rarely available. But aid enters nearby from Egypt and the UN is able to distribute essential supplies more easily.
Israel has indicated that it wants the people in southern Gaza to move again, towards a tiny square of territory called al-Muwasi along the coast between Rafah and Khan Younis.