An Israeli air strike on an agricultural chemical warehouse during last year’s war in Gaza amounted to an “indirect use of chemical weapons,” according to a report that analyzed the attack and its aftermath.

Israeli army artillery shells hit the large Khudair warehouse for pharmaceutical and agricultural tools in northern Gaza on May 15 last year, igniting hundreds of tons of pesticides, fertilizers, plastic and nylon. The strike created a toxic cloud that engulfed an area of ​​5.7 square kilometers and residents suffer health problems, including two reports of miscarriages and evidence of environmental damage.

The extensive investigation, which included analysis of cellphone and drone footage, surveillance cameras, dozens of interviews with local residents, and analysis by munitions and fluid dynamics experts, used 3D models of the camp to determine the circumstances of the attack.

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This is the first edition of the Palestinian human rights NGO Al-Haq’s Forensic Architecture Investigations Unit, a unique collaboration in the Middle East with Forensic Architecture, a research agency based at Goldsmiths, University of London, which conducts spatial and media analysis of NGOs and on human rights issues. International.

Within the first hour, the toxic cloud from the Khudair warehouse hit an area of ​​about 5.7 square kilometers with 3,000 homes in its shadow. Photography: Right and Forensic Architecture

Legal experts concluded from Al-Haq’s findings that while conventional weapons were used in the bombing, “bombing the warehouse knowing that toxic chemicals were stored in it is equivalent to using chemical weapons indirectly.” It is clear that such acts are prohibited… and punishable under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

Ordnance expert Chris Cobb Smith was quoted as saying: “There is no military justification for it [advanced smoke projectiles] to use it here. It is inherently imprecise and not suitable for use in the urban environment.”

256 people were killed in Gaza and 14 in Israel last May in the 11-day war between Israel and the Palestinian movement Hamas, which controls the besieged strip. Al-Haq said the attack on the Khudair warehouse was the first in a series of attacks that deliberately targeted Gaza’s economic and industrial infrastructure, while six other factories and warehouses were systematically bombed.

On May 17, two days after the destruction of the Khudair warehouse, the Fomco Sponge Factory was subjected to a similar attack, causing a major fire. More than six other factories and warehouses were also bombed on the same day, revealing a pattern of targeted strikes. Photography: Right and Forensic Architecture

In 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) launched an investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian militants on Palestinian territories. Israel disputes the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

The Israeli army said in a statement that Israel “carried out a series of attacks on legitimate military targets in the Gaza Strip” in response to last year’s Hamas attack during the operation known in Israel as “Guardians of the Walls”.

“The IDF takes all feasible precautions to avoid harming civilians during operations,” an IDF spokesperson said, adding that the “incident in question” was being investigated by an internal IDF investigation “to determine if there were deviations from the binding rules and Make necessary adjustments based on lessons learned.

A woman lives near the now contaminated area.
Locals living near the now contaminated area described the intense toxic smells their families were exposed to after the bombing and the dire impact on their health. Photography: Right and Forensic Architecture

Esraa Khudair, 20, who lives 40 meters from the agrochemicals warehouse site with her husband and two children, had a miscarriage eight weeks after the attack when she was five months pregnant.

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

“Since then I’ve had a rash and so have most people here. We washed the house and furniture 5 times but the smell remained. It was like oil on the walls…During the winter, rain eventually washed a lot of it away from the wreckage of the warehouse.

“We are concerned about our health now. Only one of my 19-year-old cousins ​​and my aunt recently had cancer and we think it is related to what happened here.”

Pictures of ammunition collected by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights at the site show remnants of cylindrical canisters approximately 15 cm wide.
Pictures of ammunition collected by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights at the site show remnants of cylindrical canisters approximately 15 cm wide. Photography: Right and Forensic Architecture

Last year’s fighting represented the third round of a large-scale conflict between the Israeli state and Hamas since the terror group seized control of Gaza in 2007, after which Israel and Egypt imposed a punitive blockade. Since then, Gaza’s water, sewage and electricity infrastructure has collapsed, leaving two million Gazans suffering from increasing air, soil and water pollution.

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

Rola Chedid, head of the Monitoring and Documentation Department at Al-Haq, said in a statement: “Without our professional documentation based on legal standards. [Palestinians] It cannot demand accountability and justice. Introducing new methods to improve and complement the standard documentation and delivery of our work is very important.

“We are very proud that despite the unlawful attacks and the difficult times that Palestinian civil society is facing, we still succeed in continuing and advancing our work, because we firmly believe in the importance of protecting our people’s casualties and exposing and holding the perpetrators accountable.”