Palestinians inspect the ruins of Watan Tower destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza city, on October 8, 2023 (Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages, reproduced under Creative Commons).


November 21, 2023

Written by

Sanjana Varghese

Assisted by

Rowena De Silva

Header Image

Palestinians inspect the ruins of Watan Tower destroyed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza city, on October 8, 2023 (Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages, reproduced under Creative Commons).

At least 127 civilian harm allegations in 'safe zone' in first week after evacuation order

Airwars’ investigator Sanjana Varghese spoke to NPR’s Ruth Sherlock about this investigation. You can read the article here.

On October 12th, the Israeli military issued a blanket call for all Palestinians living in the north of the Gaza strip to move south, saying it was “for your own safety”. More than one million people were told to flee, ahead of an expected ground invasion.

The evacuation zone started at Wadi Gaza, which runs through the centre of the Gaza Strip. In theory, civilians fleeing south of that line should have been safer, but Palestinians have reported extensive attacks in civilian areas in the central and southern parts of Gaza.

In the first seven days after the warning – from October 14th to 21st – Airwars’ investigation team tracked and geolocated at least 127 separate allegations of civilian harm from explosive weapons in this southern zone.

Amongst these strikes were many that allegedly hit densely populated neighbourhoods and civilian objects such as schools, hospitals and restaurants. The frequency of these allegations in this supposed safe zone suggests that there was no safe place for civilians in Gaza, despite assurances from Israeli authorities.

Safe to flee?

On October 7th, 2023 Hamas militants broke through the fence that separates Gaza from Israel and killed more than 1,000 people, according to Israeli authorities. In retaliation Israel has dropped thousands of bombs on Gaza ahead of a ground invasion, killing more than 10,000 people, according to Palestinian authorities.

Since October 7th, Airwars’ research team has been tracking every public allegation of civilian harm in order to provide an independent assessment of civilian casualties.

We have already tracked more than 1,000 separate allegations across the Gaza Strip alone; each allegation represents the death or injury of at least one civilian resulting from explosive weapons use. For the most part, these allegations are still being fully assessed by our research team – with additional sources identified, casualty ranges produced, and where possible details on civilian names and biographies captured. You can find full details of the around 40 published incidents here, and more about our methodology here.

But we have also been able to use these allegations to understand overall patterns of harm. By geolocating each harm claim from the week following the IDF’s instructions for civilians to move south, we have been able to pull together a comprehensive database of 127 likely Israeli strikes leading to allegations of civilian harm that occurred the week following the evacuation order. An allegation of civilian harm does not mean that just one civilian was injured or killed; these allegations often involve multiple people, as well as damage to buildings or family homes.

Map of civilian harm allegations, south of Wadi Gaza, between 14-21 October 2023. The red dotted line refers to the Wadi Gaza. Many locations include more than one alleged civilian harm incident. Sanjana Varghese / Airwars. Images via Maxar Technologies / Airbus / Google Earth.

Map of civilian harm allegations, south of Wadi Gaza, between 14-21 October 2023. The red dotted line refers to the Wadi Gaza. Many locations include more than one alleged civilian harm incident. Sanjana Varghese / Airwars. Images via Maxar Technologies / Airbus / Google Earth.

We relied on news reporting, humanitarian agencies and organisations, open source documentation and relevant footage where necessary. We geolocated allegations to six levels of accuracy: area/region, neighbourhood, landmark/building, hospital, street, and an exact location. Any alleged civilian harm incident that we couldn’t geolocate was discounted from our dataset.

The distance from the Wadi Gaza to the Rafah Border Crossing on the southern border of the Gaza strip is roughly 27 kilometres. From east to west across the Gaza strip, the distance is around 6 kilometres at the narrowest point, and 12 kilometres at its widest point.

We found harm allegations on every day following the evacuation order. Just four days after the south was declared to be a safe area, the most civilian harm allegations were documented: twenty four allegations, suggesting at least twenty strikes in an area little longer than Manhattan.

In incidents that have been fully researched by Airwars’ research team, we found that in some cases strikes affected whole families as they sheltered together. In one incident, on October 21st, 2023, an alleged Israeli strike hit a Palestinian civil defence facility, alongside the Dahir family home, in Khirbet-al-adas, Rafah. Between six and ten people were likely killed in this strike and up to 11 injured. Of those killed, at least five were children from the same family, all aged 13 and under. Airwars assessors were able to cross-reference six of the individuals in this assessment with the dataset of names and individual ID numbers released by the Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH).

In another incident on October 15th, in the al-Geneina neighbourhood in Rafah, the home of a doctor, Dr. Salah al-Din Zanoun, was hit. There were likely seven to eight people killed, all of whom were from the same family.  Of those killed, Airwars assessors were able to cross-reference five of the individuals in this assessment with the dataset of names and individual health ID numbers released by the MoH.

We also found that multiple civilian objects – such as hospitals and schools – were hit in the south of Gaza. As people were told to move south – and around 700,000 people, according to the New York Times, did so initially – many took shelter in buildings such as hospitals and schools. In a number of cases large numbers of civilians were crowded together when strikes hit this infrastructure, such as a strike on a UNRWA school in al-Maghazi refugee camp, on October 17th. UNRWA said that around 4,000 people were sheltering at this school. The next day, an alleged airstrike hit another UNRWA school in Khan Younis –  footage from the immediate aftermath clearly showed that groups of people had been using the school as a home, with clothes laid out over external railings around the school.

The scale of this campaign in Gaza makes this one of the most intense conflicts that Airwars has ever monitored – in just the first three weeks of the war, we monitored more individual incidents of harm than in any given month of any conflict Airwars has monitored: including deadly campaigns such as the war against ISIS. Our data also suggests that civilian harm is being compounded by the deteriorating conditions for civilians in Gaza, which is already one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

Clarifying note

Airwars uses a grading system to assess our allegations of civilian harm (you can read more about this here). Our assessments are being published in batches once they have been through the full review process.

Airwars has only tracked allegations of civilian harm – this means that there may be attacks with no public allegations of civilian harm which we haven’t included in our dataset.


October 2023


This overview is intended to accompany the publication of our incidents of civilian harm related to the use of explosive weapons in the Gaza Strip since October 7, 2023.

Airwars applies the same general methodology to all conflicts monitored, which is available on our website here. This methodology has been assessed as highly conformant with Every Casualty’s Standards for Casualty Recording.

This methodology note explains in detail how we are applying our standard approach to monitoring civilian harm incidents in Gaza from explosive weapons use. Additional methodology notes will be released tailored to each other monitoring area, such as civilian harm in Israel from the actions of Hamas militants.

Read more about our casualty recording work

In June 2023, at the Human Rights Council’s 53rd session, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) presented its report on the impact of casualty recording on the promotion and protection of human rights, which included a number of references to Airwars’ casualty recording efforts.

Our work has also been researched by academics at the University of Sydney, Heather Ford and Michael Richardson, in their paper: Framing data witnessing: Airwars and the production of authority in conflict monitoring. You can read an executive summary of their findings here.

Dataset overview

All incidents are an aggregate of all open source accounts alleging civilian harm occurred in a particular moment in space and time. We consider our incidents as ‘live’, and should be updated over time to account for new information that may come to light, or may not have been identified by Airwars during the original research.

Defining an incident

Airwars uses an incident-based approach to document harm to civilians from explosive weapons use: each incident is defined as a moment in time and space where sources alleged that an explosive weapon led to the fatality or injury of civilians. This does not include incidents where only militants were killed or injured, however we do capture the details of militants killed or injured in events alongside civilians.

Airwars assumes civilian status unless otherwise specified. Any ambiguity on civilian status is captured within our casualty and belligerent ranges (see below).

Where the exact time of an incident is unknown, deaths and injuries may be aggregated under one event until more information comes to light.

Each incident is geolocated to the highest possible degree of accuracy by trained geolocation teams. Airwars additionally cross-checks existing geolocation efforts from the wider open source community, and includes credit to such work where applicable. Airwars also encourages feedback from open source experts on each assessment, and incorporates updates and feedback where possible.

Where locations cannot be identified, incidents will be aggregated until more information is known.

Source identification

As an all source aggregate, Airwars treats all sources as relevant to an incident depending on their proximity to the harm event and the level of detail available about the event. Airwars includes all sources regardless of political or ideological affiliation. Inclusion of sources in the archive should not be taken as an endorsement of the source.

All our sources for harm events in Gaza are identified by our trained team of Arabic-language researchers; we primarily identify sources in the language local to the area where the harm has occurred. Additional English-language sources are added depending on their relevance to the harm event. As we also evolve our focus to harm events reported by Hebrew-language resources, we will also mobilise our Hebrew language teams and apply the same local-language led approach.

All information is assessed, written up and archived within each assessment in order to allow users to conduct further investigation.

As we also work to identify names of victims where known, we are reconciling names published by official channels, such as the Palestinian Ministry of Health, with our incidents.

Information categorisation


Strike status (while we use the term ‘strike’ here, this should also be taken to mean any action involving the use of an explosive weapon, including, for example, a VBIED). All incidents are cross-checked with official statements from the Israel Defense Forces, militant wings of Hamas and other Palestinian military groups, and are included as follows:

Declared: The declared strike classification applies to incidents in which a belligerent has accepted responsibility explicitly for carrying out a strike on a specific location or specific target. This includes any statement made by an official from the Israeli government or from official channels or websites linked to Palestinian militant groups (Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas).

Likely: The likely strike classification applies to incidents in which at least two or more sources that reported on the incident explicitly attributed the strikes to a belligerent. In Gaza, Airwars’ Arabic-language researchers take typical local references and language used to describe Israel Defense Forces to identify local attribution, as the term ‘Israeli state’ is rarely explicitly referenced.

Contested: The contested strike classification includes incidents in which attribution of the strike to one belligerent was not agreed upon by all sources reporting on the incident, specifically when sources attribute a strike to both Palestinian forces (Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas) and Israeli forces. Incidents where no sources attribute a strike and the resulting civilian harm to a specific belligerent are graded as contested until more information comes to light.

Single source claims: only one source was found with an explicit allegation of harm from a belligerent.

Civilian harm status

Confirmed: A specific belligerent has accepted responsibility for the killing or injuring of non-combatants or allied forces in a particular incident.

Fair: Where, in the view of Airwars, there is a reasonable level of public reporting of an alleged civilian casualty incident from two or more sources which includes attribution to a specific belligerent. In the context of reporting in the Gaza Strip, Airwars has found that explicit attribution to Israeli forces is rare, and instead is assumed by sources given the intensity of bombardment. Incidents are therefore assessed as ‘fair’ if at least one source mentions a belligerent in a credible harm incident. Incidents will be updated to reflect alternative attribution should that come to light at a later stage. In our ‘strike status’ category, as mentioned above, we will still refer to incidents with only one source explicitly attributing the harm to a belligerent as ‘single source claims’ to reflect the information environment.

Weak: These are presently claims seen by Airwars as ‘place-holder’ incidents until more information comes to light, given a lack of corroborating sources on either civilian harm or likely belligerent.

Contested: These occur where there are competing claims of responsibility within the sources: for example, sources may both attribute the harm to misfire from a Hamas rocket, or to an Israeli airstrike. There may also be inconclusive evidence supporting attribution to both belligerents, for example competing interpretations of munition fragments or blast impacts.

Discounted: This criteria is often applied to incidents that may have at first fallen into one of the above categories, but new information came to light since publication that suggests the original source material was incorrect. For example, more information may come to light about the identities of victims initially classified as civilians, that strongly suggests such individuals were combatants. Airwars researchers judge this information objectively and on a case by case basis.

Casualty ranges

As with all assessments, Airwars presents casualty figures recorded in an incident within a range.

All assessments include a minimum and maximum for both civilians and, if applicable, militants (‘belligerents’) injured and killed, taking the most recent figure from unique sources. For example, a source may initially say five civilians were killed. As more information on the incident becomes available, the same source may then say that the number rose to 10. In this case we would take the ‘10’ as this reflects the source’s updated understanding of events.

In the assessment summary, an explanation is offered as to the rationale behind the casualty range.

In cases where civilian status is contested, Airwars applies the minimum casualty range ‘0’ to both the civilian casualty field and to the belligerent field.

Information related to missing individuals, or civilians buried under the rubble following an attack is recorded in Airwars’ summary. The number of missing individuals would only be added to our death toll ranges if sources specified that those civilians have been killed. When new information comes to light regarding the fate of these victims, we would update the assessment accordingly, as well as our ranges.

Images and media referenced

As we are uploading images at pace for this project, all images have been automatically blurred to warn for graphic content given the high volume of graphic material. Less graphic images will be unblurred in due course.

Please also note that we include all images related to the sources identified, which can include images of militants.

All images are used under fair use as archival material. If you would like us to take down any images, please contact us at the info email listed below, using the subject line ‘Image use’.

Identification of victims

Airwars is also matching names of civilians identified through open source investigation with official names and IDs released by the Palestinian Ministry of Health where possible. As in other conflicts monitored, Airwars also records incidents of civilian harm where not all victims were named by sources, or where sources did not provide the victim’s full family name.


Airwars is tracking the reported impact of the use of explosive weapons on services or infrastructure relating to education, health or food supply. See below for more details on what is being included in each category:

    Education – Reported damage or destruction to education infrastructure (school, university, etc.) and/or injured or killed education staff Health – Reported damage or destruction to healthcare infrastructure or vehicles (ambulance, hospital, clinic, etc.), and/or healthcare staff (doctors, nurses, rescuers, etc.), killed or injured Food – reported damage or destruction to food infrastructure (food markets, agricultural land, food factory, water infrastructure, etc.) or machinery (tractor, etc.), and/or injured or killed civilians working in the food or agricultural sector, and/or livestock killed or injured

Updating our assessments

If you have lost loved ones in an incident listed on the Airwars site and would like to get in touch – or would like to ask us to remove a photo or to add another – then please also contact us at the info email listed below.

Errors and corrections

We strive for accuracy and transparency of process in our reporting and presentation. Our casualty monitoring is continually evolving, representing our best current understanding of any alleged incidents.

If you have new information about a particular event, or details we haven’t included; if you find an error in our work; or if you have concerns about the way we are reporting our data, then do please reach us at the info email listed below with the subject line ‘Assessment update’.

Contact: info [at] airwars [dot] org

▲ Satellite imagery, screenshot from Google Earth, October 2023

Israel and Gaza 2023


May 10, 2022

Written by

Imogen Piper

Number of civilians killed decreases across monitored conflicts, while focus on explosive weapons use grows

Civilian harm dropped across most of the major conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa in 2021, Airwars’ annual report has found.

The number of allegations of civilians killed by nearly all belligerents monitored by Airwars fell in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, though there was an escalation in the Israel-Palestinian conflict which caused significant human suffering.

Read Airwars’ full annual report here

US actions decline

The United States, which has fought multiple campaigns across the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia over the past two decades, saw a significant decrease in its activities.

Across all the US campaigns Airwars monitors, including in Syria and Iraq, as well as counterterrorism campaigns in Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere, civilian harm from US actions fell in 2021, continuing a downward trend in recent years.

In Iraq there were no reports of civilian harm from US actions, while in Syria at least 15 and up to 27 civilians were likely killed by US-led Coalition actions in 20 incidents throughout the year – mostly in combined air and ground actions that appeared to target alleged remnant ISIS fighters.

In Yemen at least two civilians were reportedly killed by US strikes during the year while there were no reliable local allegations of civilians likely killed by US strikes in Libya or Pakistan, according to Airwars’ assessment of local sources.

Even taking into account hundreds of airstrikes in Afghanistan which both the Trump and Biden administrations had initially kept secret, 2021 saw the lowest numbers of declared US military strikes globally since 2006.

However, 2021 was also a year in which focus was again placed on civilian harm caused by historic US actions.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist atrocities, Airwars conducted an investigation to estimate how many civilians were likely killed by US forces alone in the subsequent 20 years of the so-called War on Terror. The research concluded that an estimated 22,000 to 48,000 civilians had been killed directly by US actions in two decades of war according to public records –  the vast majority of fatalities were in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.  The findings were cited in the opening remarks of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing “’Targeted Killing’ and the Rule of Law: The Legal and Human Costs of 20 Years of U.S. Drone Strikes,” and were covered by more than 60 news outlets globally, in at least ten languages.

The Pentagon’s troubling management of civilian harm allegations was highlighted by another Airwars investigation during 2021, leading the Pentagon to withdraw and republish their own annual report to Congress. Airwars uncovered nine historic incidents in Iraq and Syria that the US had declared responsibility for killing civilians in, which were actually conducted by US allies including Australia, France, the United Kingdom and Belgium.

Brief but brutal Gaza conflict

In May 2021 an intense and deadly conflict lasting just eleven days erupted between Israeli and Palestinian forces. As on previous occasions, civilians paid the highest price. Airwars documented the human impact of this short but brutal conflict in both Gaza and Israel, working for the first time in three primary languages – Arabic, Hebrew and English.

The research found that Israeli strikes, continually impacting across the densely populated streets of Gaza, led to the likely deaths of between 151 and 192 civilians. Over a third of civilians killed in Gaza were children and in more than 70% of the allegations documented by Airwars, civilians – not militants – were the only documented victims. In Israel, ten civilians were directly killed by rockets fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from Gaza.

The report also documented civilian harm from Israeli strikes in Syria, which across eight years had led to the deaths of between 14 and 40 civilians. Comparatively this civilian harm estimate stands in stark contrast to the numbers of those killed in just eleven days. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world, whilst Israeli strikes in Syria were conducted on military targets mostly in sparsely populated areas.

Airwars’ Senior Investigator Joe Dyke partnered with the Guardian on a piece interviewing the residents of a tower destroyed by Israel Defence Forces during the May 2021 conflict. Al-Jalaa Tower was home to dozens of civilians and a number of offices, including those of Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. All were given an hour’s notice to evacuate the tower and scramble together their possessions before seeing their homes destroyed in front of them. The investigation recently won an Amnesty Media Award.

Russian assault in Syria

Long before Russia’s assault on Ukraine in February 2022, Airwars had been tracking civilian harm caused by extensive Russian actions in Syria.

Whilst allegations of civilian harm fell to their lowest rate this year since 2015, after a 2020 ceasefire agreement between Russia and Turkey continued to hold, Putin’s forces continued to strike Idlib and other rebel-held areas of Syria with air and artillery strikes.

Approximately 48% of civilian harm allegations against Russia during 2021 occurred in Idlib, whilst 2% occurred in Hama, and 23% in Aleppo governorate. In total as many as 280 civilians were killed by Russian and/or Syrian regime air and artillery strikes.

This significant but comparatively lower civilian casualty count came alongside Russia’s escalation of military operations in preparation for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, which has subsequently led to mass civilian harm.

Explosive weapons

An overarching theme throughout Airwars’ work during the year, and a key focus for our advocacy outreach, was on restricting the use of explosive weapons in populated areas (EWIPA).

Whether in Syria, Iraq, Gaza or any of the other conflicts Airwars monitors, when explosive weapons are used in densely populated areas, the potential for civilian harm dramatically increases.

Throughout 2021, Airwars worked with international partners to support a strongly worded UN-backed international political declaration against the use of EWIPA. The final UN-backed conference debating this declaration will be held in summer 2022, with Airwars playing a key role advocating for change.

▲ An airstrike in Gaza is the front cover image for Airwars' 2021 annual report (Credit: Hani al Shaer)


December 9, 2021

Written by

Airwars Staff

Population density is greatest driver of civilian casualties from strikes in Gaza, Israel and Syria, new study shows.

In just eleven days in May 2021, Israeli air and artillery strikes on Gaza killed up to 10 times more civilians than the country’s eight-year bombing campaign against Iranian-linked forces in Syria, new Airwars research has found. The study raises critical concerns about the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.

The report – ‘Why did they bomb us?’ Urban civilian harm in Gaza, Syria and Israel from explosive weapons use’ – comprehensively documents the civilian toll of recent Israeli actions in Gaza and Syria, as well as from Palestinian rocket fire into Israel during May. Published jointly in Arabic, Hebrew and English, the 16,000 word report employs Airwars’ standard methodology to examine how, when, and where civilians are killed in urban conflicts.

The report chronicles civilian casualties from two very different military campaigns by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Among the report’s key findings are:

    Across the three conflict areas, both the targeting approach and the population density of those areas bombed were critical drivers of civilian harm, leading to profoundly different outcomes for civilians. In Gaza between 151 and 192 civilians were likely killed as a result of IDF actions in May 2021, mostly in densely populated areas. At least a third of those killed were children. Between 15 and 20 civilian deaths in Gaza were additionally likely to have resulted from Palestinian misfires. 10 civilians were directly killed in Israel in May 2021 resulting from Palestinian militant actions – with most casualties occurring when rockets penetrated Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ defence system and reached cities and towns. In Syria, an extensive IDF air campaign since 2013 has had a far smaller impact on civilians. Israeli strikes have likely killed at least 14 and up to 40 Syrian civilians, with attacks mostly focused on exclusively military targets, away from population centres. Airwars has produced an interactive map showing its findings for Gaza, which can be viewed here. The map allows users to navigate through 128 individual assessments of civilian harm in Gaza, and provides a lasting testimony to the civilian victims of the conflict.


Israel’s longtime rival Iran has been active within near neighbour Syria since civil war erupted a decade ago, with Tehran helping to prop up President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Beginning in January 2013, Israel has periodically carried out attacks within Syria to counter Iranian entrenchment. Strikes have targeted Iranian and Syrian troops, as well as militias from multiple countries aligned with Tehran.

Airwars has tracked Israeli strikes in Syria for several years as part of its long running monitoring of actions there by all foreign actors. It has now published interactive mapping of all locally reported allegations against Israel in Syria. It’s believed to be the first comprehensive assessment of the civilian toll of an extensive but secretive air campaign.

Airwars researchers also recorded civilian harm from Israeli military strikes during the May 2021 eruption of violence in Gaza, alongside harm caused by rockets fired into Israel by Palestinian militants.

An image from Airwars’ interactive map of civilian harm in Gaza

Choice of targets

Since 2008 Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have fought four major combat operations. Airwars researchers looked at the latest conflict in May 2021 in order to provide comparative data with the more limited civilian harm events being reported from Israeli strikes in Syria.

After compiling all community-reported civilian harm events in the conflicts in Syria and Gaza, Airwars researchers found that one of the critical explainers behind the dramatically different outcomes for civilians was where the IDF chooses to bomb.

According to local reports, the great majority of Israeli actions in Syria have targeted military assets such as air bases, troop convoys and weapons stores, away from major cities and towns. Hundreds of militants were killed in these operations, for the most part in military settings.

In Gaza, the picture was very different. Strikes routinely hit residential neighbourhoods, and militants were frequently targeted in non-military settings: Airwars identified 17 locally reported incidents in which militants were targeted in residential buildings and in which civilians were killed or injured nearby. In those incidents, local reports found that between 27 and 33 civilians were killed, with more than 100 injured. One third of those killed in the Gaza Strip were children.

Airwars also identified between 56 and 68 civilians killed when the IDF targeted what they said was a Hamas militant tunnel network beneath heavily populated areas in Gaza City, leading the buildings above to collapse. Most of the deaths came from a single incident: in the early morning of May 16th, at least 41 civilians were killed in strikes on the residential al-Wahda street, of which up to 18 were children.

Riyad Ishkontana, 42, lost his wife and four of his children in the al-Wahda street attack. He had spent the days leading up to the bombing reassuring the young family they were safe: their building was in an area of professionals and shops, he told them. But in the early hours of the morning, as Ishkontana was out getting snacks, the building was hit. Only one of his children survived. “I wish I never left,” he told The New York Times.

Population density mapping

Airwars also mapped all civilian harm allegations in Gaza, Syria and Israel against population density, and found a second clear driver of civilian harm: the more heavily populated an area, the more civilians were killed.

Airwars’s new landing page comparing Israeli actions in Syria and Gaza

In Gaza, one of the most heavily populated places in the world, more than 1,500 declared Israeli air and artillery strikes hit the territory in just 11 days. This dramatically increased the likelihood of civilian harm. Even within Gaza, there was a clear trend – the more heavily populated a neighbourhood, the more civilians died there.

The trend was also noticeable in Syria. While the scale of civilian harm from IDF strikes was much lower than in Gaza, it is still overwhelmingly located in heavily populated areas. Around 45 percent of estimated civilian casualties from Israeli strikes since 2013 occurred in the capital Damascus. In Israel, 17 of the 33 reported civilian harm incidents resulting from Palestinian rockets also took place in more densely populated areas, Airwars found.

Population density in Gaza may have given some a false sense of security. On May 12th in Gaza, airstrikes killed Reema Saad, who was four months pregnant, alongside her two children and husband. The family had decided to stay in their apartment because they believed the densely populated neighbourhood would be immune from targeting, Reema’s mother Samia told Middle East Eye.

Airwars mapping of population density and reported civilian harm for Gaza, May 2021

Urban deaths part of a global trend

The new findings support what Airwars has found across all conflicts it monitors: that using wide area effect explosive weapons in populated urban areas leads to high levels of civilian deaths and injuries.

This phenomenon is certainly not restricted to actions by the IDF, or by Palestinian militant groups. Indeed, the Gaza campaign in particular can be seen as part of a profoundly worrying trend in which nations and others conduct intensive military actions in urban areas, often with devastating results.

High civilian casualties in Gaza are symptomatic of an escalating and troubling global military trend in the use of wide area effect weapons in populated areas (sometimes known as EWIPA) – seen from Gaza to Mosul, Aleppo to Raqqa, and Tripoli to Kabul. These latest findings lend further urgency to an ongoing international push to restrict their use in a United Nations-brokered Political Declaration by nations, expected to be finalised in early 2022.

“Our latest study corroborates what we have found with other large scale conflicts in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere: even technologically advanced militaries kill large numbers of civilians when attacks focus on urban centres,” Chris Woods, director at Airwars, said. “Despite repeated assurances to the contrary, it’s clear that ‘precision warfare’ cannot sufficiently mitigate civilian harm.”

“Stark differences in civilian deaths and injuries from Israeli actions in Syria and in the Gaza Strip clearly illustrate that the most significant driver of civilian harm remains the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The single most effective way to reduce the number of civilians dying in warfare would be to restrict the use of such dangerous wide area effect weapons on urban centres.”

How the new research was carried out

The Airwars report is the result of months of meticulous research carried out by a team of local language researchers, geolocators and specialist assessors.

Thousands of local media, social media and official sources documenting civilian harm as it happened were identified and archived by Airwars’ team of Arabic-, Hebrew- and English-language researchers in relation to the May 2021 conflict in Gaza and Israel. Researchers also continue to monitor and archive all civilian harm allegations in Syria resulting from Israeli strikes since 2013.

Airwars has then assessed the civilian harm from each incident in Gaza, Syria and Israel using the same standard methodology it applies across all conflicts it monitors. Its approach can best be described as remote, original language hyperlocal monitoring of casualty claims by affected communities – along with a review of broader reports and claims by belligerents, media and other investigators. All assessments are viewed as provisional – that is, any credible new information relating to an event will be subsequently added, potentially affecting our understanding of the incident.

Full resource list

The full report available in English, Hebrew and Arabic

Interactive mapping of civilian harm in Gaza

Video documenting key findings

Full dataset for civilian harm from Israeli strikes in Gaza and Syria

Full dataset for civilian harm from Palestinian rocket fire in Israel

▲ A child uses his mobile device in the ruins of a building in Beit Lahia, Gaza Strip on May 26th 2021. © Mohamed Zaanoun

נפגעים אזרחיים מפעולות מילטינטיות פלסטיניות במאי 2021

الفصائل الفلسطينية في إسرائيل

Civilian Casualties from Palestinian Militant Actions May 2021