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Gaza: Israel's bombardment of high-rise buildings 'may amount to war crimes'

New report by Human Rights Watch suggests Israel made unsubstantiated allegations that Hamas used the destroyed towers for military purposes
Palestinians walk along a cordoned-off neighbourhood in Gaza City that was destroyed by Israeli air strikes during the May 2021 conflict, 10 August 2021 (AFP)

Israel's destruction of four high-rise buildings in Gaza City during the bombardment of the besieged enclave in May may have constituted war crimes, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

The organisation said the air strikes that targeted the buildings "apparently violated the laws of war and may amount to war crimes".

Among the buildings destroyed was the al-Shorouk tower in the west of the city, which housed local and foreign media outlets, including Middle East Eye, as well as shops and apartments.

Israeli authorities said Hamas members were using each of the three buildings it has so far targeted for military purposes. But official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported that "no clear reason was seen for the bombing of high rises other than inflicting damage and hurting the population".

The other buildings destroyed - Hanadi, al-Jawhara, and al-Jalaa - were inhabited by numerous businesses and residents, who were told to flee before the air strikes hit.

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“The apparently unlawful Israeli strikes on four high-rise towers in Gaza City caused serious, lasting harm for countless Palestinians who lived, worked, shopped, or benefited from businesses based there,” said Richard Weir, crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

“The Israeli military should publicly produce the evidence that it says it relied on to carry out these attacks.”

Israel's 11-day offensive on the besieged strip in May killed at least 248 Palestinians and destroyed or damaged 1,500 economic establishments.

Gaza's Higher Governmental Committee for Reconstruction estimated Israel's campaign resulted in more than $479m-worth of losses.

Israel accused Hamas, which rules Gaza, of housing armed personnel in the buildings and using them as human shields, an allegation HRW said Israel repeatedly made "without providing evidence".

“Throughout the May hostilities, unlawful Israeli strikes not only killed many civilians, but also destroyed high-rise towers, wiping out scores of businesses and homes, upending the lives of thousands of Palestinians,” Weir added.

“Donor funding alone will not rebuild Gaza. The crushing closure of the Gaza Strip needs to end, along with the impunity that fuels ongoing serious abuses.”