high civilian toll in Gaza is cost of crushing Hamas, IDF officials say


“We have never seen such weapons. I was born in 1950, I have never seen anything like this,” said Mohammed Zurub, whose family lost 11 people in the strike. He called it “a barbarian act”.

Asked for comment on the strike, the IDF said it took feasible precautions to mitigate civilian harm under international law.

Senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad said Israel was “indiscriminately bombing schools and tents that house hundreds of thousands of displaced people and hospitals protected by international humanitarian law”.

One of the officials, a legal advisor to the Israeli Defence Forces, said hospitals can become a legitimate military target when they are being used by combatants. Hamas denies operating from civilian infrastructure like hospitals or schools.

Speaking alongside Austin at a news conference, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Israeli forces operated legally and “to minimise the harm to the civilian population”.

The legal advisor said the air force was carrying out “thousands and thousands of attacks and often attacks that require heavy firepower” to break through tunnels.

“Really tragically that results in a large number of civilian casualties,” said the official, in a briefing with journalists at the coastal base, from where grey military drones depart on bombing runs.

Palestinians search for bodies and survivors in the rubble of a residential building destroyed in an Israeli airstrike, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip.Credit: AP

The Israeli military asked that the officials not be named for security reasons. Military spokesperson Daniel Hagari blamed Hamas’ tactics for civilian suffering.

“Our intent is to defeat Hamas and secure the release of our hostages. The tragic suffering of civilians in Gaza is not our intent.”


Yagil Levy, an expert in civil military relations at the Israel Open University, calculated the civilian casualty rate in the war was about 61 per cent in October, almost double that in previous conflicts in Gaza. He said that could indicate rules of engagement being interpreted more flexibly to minimise the risk to Israeli ground forces “by inflicting more death on the other side”.

The officials said the government’s war goal of destroying Hamas meant the campaign was more intense than in previous conflicts where the goal was to deter the group from attacks.

Whatever the reason, Israel was “not winning hearts and minds”, Levy said, arguing that a political alternative was the only long-term solution.

Because of the sheer number of bombs, Israel could not always warn before a strike, which was why it had turned to mass evacuations of conflict zones, the legal advisor said.

Many of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have left their homes multiple times under Israeli instructions to avoid strikes, broadcast by leaflets, on radio and social media.

Another senior Israeli military official said Israel pre-plans 90 per cent of its daily bombing raids over Gaza. The officials said pre-planning involved a 10-step process to assess whether a target had military value, and the proportionality of the response, among other things.


Hagari said the military aborted attacks when it saw an unexpected civilian presence and chose which munition to use for each target to avoid unnecessary damage. Gazan authorities estimate 60 per cent of houses have been damaged by the offensive.

“We know this is hard, but we are trying to save lives,” Hagari said.

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