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Researchers mapped the damage in Gaza, and more than a third of the buildings have been wrecked as the war moves south

Jake Epstein   

Researchers mapped the damage in Gaza, and more than a third of the buildings have been wrecked as the war moves south
  • Israel's campaign in Gaza started in the north but has now shifted to the southern area.
  • Researchers mapping the damage say more than a third of the buildings in the strip have been destroyed.

Israel's continued bombardment of the Gaza Strip in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks has damaged more than a third of all buildings that existed there before the war began over two months ago, according to analysis by a pair of satellite data researchers.

The scale of the destruction underscores the intensity of the ground fighting and air campaign, which has seen Israel drop tens of thousands of munitions — a mix of deadly precision and unguided weapons — on the coastal enclave since the early October massacre.

Since that day, Jamon Van Den Hoek and Corey Scher, two researchers who work with satellite data to examine the impact of armed conflict, have been monitoring and charting structural damage across the Gaza Strip. They recently shared their findings and imagery with Business Insider.

As of Dec. 16, the researchers estimate that between 102,000 and 129,000 buildings across the enclave have been damaged out of a pre-conflict total of nearly 288,000 structures. At the lower end of their estimate, that's a little under 36% of all buildings, and at the upper end, that figure jumps to nearly 45%.

Northern Gaza has suffered the most overall destruction during the conflict, the researchers found, which is consistent with where the Israeli military focused its efforts during the first half of the conflict.

Following its nonstop aerial bombardment of Gaza, the Israeli military began its ground invasion in the northern part of the strip and eventually ended up controlling much of the territory there as intense urban battles with Hamas continued.

Fighting briefly paused during a week-long truce with the militant group that saw Hamas release over 100 of the more than 200 hostages it was holding, but after hostilities resumed in early December, the Israeli military began operating more frequently in the south.

The shift to the south can be observed in data analyzed by Van Den Hoek and Scher, who found that the area around the southern city of Khan Younis suffered more damage than any other area in Gaza — including North Gaza, Gaza, Deir Al-Balah, and Rafah — between the recent stretch between Dec. 11 and Dec. 16.

In addition to airstrikes in and around Khan Younis, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have also been operating on the ground in this area.

"We saw at the beginning of the war an intense bombardment in Gaza, primarily, as well as North Gaza," Van Den Hoek, an associate professor of geography at Oregon State, told Business Insider. "After the ceasefire, there was a bit of a turn to the south — in particular, Khan Younis."

To obtain their data, the researchers use open-source satellite radar data from the European Space Agency's Copernicus network and analyze changes in how radar waves echo in urban areas. This involves comparing stable areas before a conflict to those same areas during a conflict, and looking for signs of destabilization. Those signs are detected by their algorithms and flagged as damage-affected areas.

The researchers also remove false positives, clean up the map, compare it to known buildings in Gaza before the war started, and break down the amount of aerial damage estimated in an area.

Scher, a PhD candidate at the City University of New York, said that even though there may have been relatively little damage in southern Gaza during the first few weeks of the conflict, the number of buildings damaged or destroyed is still an "order of magnitude" above the most recent clash between Israel and Hamas, which occurred in 2021.

"What now looks small — relative to what's happening in the north — is still pretty unprecedented for air campaigns over Gaza in the last 10 years at least," he told Business Insider.

Israel's air campaign has killed nearly 20,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, and nearly 85 percent of the population forced to flee their homes.

The intensity of the air operations has drawn comparisons to other major bombardments this century, including the US-led coalition fight against the Islamic State, the war in Afghanistan war, Russia's invasion of Ukraine. There have also been comparisons to bombing campaigns during the Vietnam War and World War II.

Van Den Hoek and Scher said that this type of satellite radar data collection has only recently allowed researchers to compare damage across conflicts, but they've already noticed that the pace and magnitude of the destruction in Gaza is unlike anything they've seen before in their work.

"We're talking about one of the fastest — if not the fastest — aerial bombardment campaigns in modern history," Van Den Hoek said. "How does anyone respond to that kind of intensity, that kind of dynamism?"

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