Satellite images reveal new demolitions along a 1 kilometer-wide path on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, according to an analysis by The Associated Press and expert reports.
The destruction comes as Israel has said it want to establish a buffer zone on the spot—despite the objections of the international community— keeping more land that the Palestinians want for the creation of their State.
The demolition strip represents just a sample of the extensive damage left by the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, which — according to one assessment — has damaged or devastated half of the buildings of the Palestinian territory.
The Israeli government has indicated that it would like to establish a buffer zone as a defensive measure, arguing that it could prevent a repeat of a cross-border attack like the one carried out by Hamas on October 7, which triggered a conflict that is almost four months old. Israel's actions come despite warnings from the United States not to reduce Gaza.
Image from Planet Labs PBC shows the path on the border between Gaza and Israel. Photo: AP
To an explicit question from the AP, the Israeli armed forces refused to answer whether they are in fact in the process of establishing a separation zone, and limited themselves to saying that “several imperative actions are required for the implementation of a defense plan that provides greater security in southern Israel.” However, the army has acknowledged that it has demolished buildings throughout the area.
An Israeli government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said a “temporary security zone” is being built.
But the magnitude of the demolitions raises the question of how temporary the potential containment zone will be.
Where is the proposed separation zone located?
Gaza shares a border of almost 60 kilometers with Israel, and on the other side is the Mediterranean Sea. Establishing a security zone would take away about 60 square kilometers (23 square miles) to the Gaza Strip, whose total territory is about 360 square kilometers.
Towards the south of the Gaza Strip, much of the land included in the proposed containment zone They are farmland that abut the extensive $1 billion border wall that was built on Israeli territory to separate itself from the enclave. But near the town of Khuza'a, where the border turns northwest, the story is different.
Planet Labs satellite images analyzed by the AP show significant destruction of buildings and land that were raided in an area of about 6 square kilometers. Just over 4 kilometers to the north, where the security zone would be established, the plots have been destroyed.
Further north is an area in the Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza region. There, Israeli reservists who They were preparing explosives to demolish two buildings near the border with Israel died last month after a fighter lobbed a rocket-propelled grenade at a tank near the site. The blast detonated the explosives, causing the two buildings collapsed on the soldiers, killing more than 20 of them.
Gaza in ruins on the left. Photo: AP
Just southeast of Gaza City, and also within the possible security zone, is observed a huge complex of destroyed warehouses.
The AP's visual analysis coincides with that of scientists who study satellite data to understand the damage caused by war.
Adi Ben-Nun, manager of the Center for Geographic Information Systems at the Hebrew University of Israel, has assessed the damage along the possible buffer zone until January 17. Of the nearly 2,850 buildings that could be destroyed, 1,100 of them already have damage, he told the AP. He estimates that across the Gaza Strip there are some 80,000 structures that have been damaged during the war.
Corey Scher of the City University of New York and Jamon Van Den Hoek of Oregon State University calculate that the damage is even greater. They estimate that at least half of all buildings in Gaza, some 143,900 structures, have been damaged or destroyed during the war.. The most intense damage has been recorded around Gaza City —the first town attacked by Israel during the ground offensive—although the devastation has been increasing in the city of Khan Yunis, in the south of the territory.
Destroyed buildings in Gaza. Photo: Bloomberg
In the area where the 1-kilometer buffer zone would be located, at least 1,329 structures have been destroyed or damaged since the start of the war, U.S. analysts told the AP.
Gaza's border with Egypt It already has a narrow separation zoneknown as the Philadelphi Route, which was created as part of the 1979 peace agreement between Cairo and Israel.
What has been the response from the international community?
Israel informed its Western allies and Arab nations in the region last December of its plans to establish a buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and Israeli territory, Egyptian and Western diplomats told the AP. At that momentthe discussions did not include details.
News of a separation zone sparked concern in the international communityl for the loss of more Palestinian territoryparticularly from the United States, which has been Israel's main defender during the conflict.
“We are against any reduction of Gaza territory,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on January 25.
Khan Yunis, also razed. Photo: EFE
The State Department did not respond to questions from the AP about its analysis of demolitions in the possible buffer zone. However, agency spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters on Wednesday that officials had “raised the issue with (Israel) about creating a buffer zone.”
“I will say that we have made it very clear to them the same thing that we have said publicly, which is that we are against any reduction in size of Gaza territory,” Miller pointed out.
What do the Palestinians say?
While, There has been a continuous growth of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank during the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.
That further undermines the chances of creating an independent Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution that has been aspired to during the decades of conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinians want the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — areas captured by Israel during the 1967 Middle East War — for their future state.
The Palestinian Foreign Ministry, under the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank, said in a statement that “Israel continues to implement its occupation and colonial projects in the Gaza Strip, as is evident in the recent initiation of what it calls 'safety zones' along the borders of the Gaza Strip.”
Asked about Israel's possible plans to establish a buffer zone, Basem Naim, a senior leader of Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, responded that the group is “determined not to allow this”. He didn't go into details.