Israeli officers operating in the Gaza Strip are ordering their troops to set fire to Palestinian homes without any legal approval, Haaretz reported on Wednesday.
According to information obtained by Haaretz, soldiers have destroyed ‘several hundred’ buildings in this way over the past month.
In response to the reports, the army said that the destruction of buildings in Gaza was always done with official approval, and that claims of unauthorized destruction would be ‘investigated’.
An Israeli army commanding officer told Haaretz he did not know why some buildings were set alight.
‘Probably there was information about the owner of the house, or they found something there. I don’t know exactly why the house was set on fire,’ the officer was quoted as saying.
The pattern of setting homes and buildings on fire in Gaza has become ‘a common method of action’, according to sources who spoke to Haaretz.
Initially, the move to burn homes started in an ‘isolated’ fashion and then became increasingly common.
One battalion at the end of its operations in the Gaza Strip last week was given the instruction to ‘evacuate their things from the house and prepare it for arson’, the report added.
‘We set fire to them as soon as we were ready to move on,’ one commander said. According to Haaretz, each day a different platoon goes out to raid homes.
The report said that some Israeli soldiers posted videos to social media, labelling their acts ‘revenge’ for Israelis killed on 7 October.
‘The houses are destroyed, occupied… in the end, they burn the house down with all of its contents,’ one Israeli posted online.
Another message left on a Palestinian home to other Israeli soldiers read: ‘We didn’t burn the house down so that you can enjoy it. When you leave, you already know what to do.’
Since the Israeli military campaign began in October, soldiers have used mines and explosives to destroy homes and buildings.
The US has repeatedly called on Israeli forces to stop destroying public buildings in the Gaza Strip, including schools, clinics and other civilian infrastructure, arguing that doing so means Palestinians cannot return to their homes after the war.
Satellite data obtained by the BBC showed that between 144,000 and 175,000 buildings across the Gaza Strip have been damaged or destroyed. The figure equates to between 50 and 61 percent of Gaza’s buildings.
NGOs estimate that around 70 percent of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure has now been wiped out by Israel.
The widespread destruction has caused legal experts to label the actions ‘domicide’ – or the mass destruction of homes to make the area uninhabitable.
Domicide is a crime against humanity under international law.
UN rapporteur Balakrishnan Rajagopal said that it was ‘necessary to address hostilities being carried out in the knowledge that they will systematically destroy and damage civilian housing and infrastructure, rendering an entire city, such as Gaza City, uninhabitable for civilians’.