Montage of Gaza map and photograph of Israeli tanks on the border
© FT montage/AFP/Getty Images

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The Israeli military’s highest legal officer has issued an unprecedented warning to its forces in Gaza over “improper conduct”, including the unjustified use of force and looting, which had in some cases crossed over into “criminal” acts.

Major General Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi, Israel’s military advocate general, acknowledged the “complex characteristics” of the war against Hamas in Gaza, but also that she had “come across improper cases of conduct that deviate from IDF values and orders”. She indicated that several cases were under review.

The warning comes as humanitarian aid distribution in Gaza has almost ground to a halt in recent days as desperately hungry Palestinians and criminal gangs loot aid trucks before they can reach their destinations.

More than 450 trucks carrying food and medical supplies are lined up at a holding area on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing in the south of the territory, as aid agencies struggle to enable more than a handful of convoys to travel securely through the besieged strip.

The dire humanitarian situation had already affected law and order, but the situation has worsened after Palestinian police stopped operating after months without salaries and in the face of Israeli air strikes on police stations.

Israel’s incursion in Gaza: October 2023 to present

Israel’s defence forces launched air and land offensives in Gaza after Hamas’s brutal October 7 attack in southern Israel.

Hamas killed more than 1,200 people and seized around 250 hostages, according to Israeli officials. The IDF’s response has killed more than 28,000 people in Gaza, according to Palestinian officials.

A temporary truce between the two sides in November allowed for the release of about 105 Israeli women and children as well as foreigners held hostage. This was in exchange for about 240 Palestinian women and children freed from Israeli jails.

Israel’s military has carried out one of the largest bombing campaigns in history on the small, blockaded enclave.

Satellite data shows the toll the war has taken on Gaza’s infrastructure and homes, with much of the Palestinian enclave’s two biggest cities in ruins, including entire neighbourhoods destroyed.

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Animation showing likely building damage in Gaza since October 5

Satellite data showing building damage in Gaza © FT • Sources: FT research; OpenStreetMap; damage analysis of Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite data by Corey Scher of CUNY Graduate Center and Jamon Van Den Hoek of Oregon State University

Israel’s military has been tight-lipped about how many troops it has committed to the war — its biggest operation in years — but satellite imagery and tracking data show a significant incursion.

Data tracking the movement of Israeli forces between October 31 and December 31 shows them tightening their hold on Gaza City, surrounding al-Shifa hospital and taking territory in Khan Younis.

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Animation showing Israeli ground force operations as well as damaged areas from aerial bombardment and artillery fire in Gaza from October 31 to December 31

© FT • Sources: FT research, Institute for the Study of War and AEI's Critical Threats Project, Gisha, OpenStreetMap

Satellite imagery published from October 31 shows that after breaching the barrier wall in at least six places, Israel’s columns cut through Gaza’s sparsely populated farmland to the south of the border, before moving deeper into the strip towards more populated areas.

Satellite map of northern Gaza showing entry point of Israeli troops and signs of damage from air strikes

Aid agencies have warned about the dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza, including a lack of sufficient water, food, medicine and fuel.

Gaza’s sole power plant went offline on October 11 due to a lack of fuel, with the outage captured by night-time satellite imagery.

Hamas’s attack on Israel: October 7 2023

As much of Israel slept, Hamas militants launched an unprecedented, multipronged dawn assault on the country from the Gaza Strip. The Middle East’s most powerful security force was caught off guard.

Launched on the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah, the assault began in the early hours with thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The barrage set off warning sirens across the south and centre of the country, sending citizens fleeing to air-raid shelters.

Satellite map of the Israel-Gaza border area showing the location of fires and smoke plumes

Israel’s military said Gaza-based militants launched more than 4,500 rockets over that weekend. Many were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system, but satellite imagery showed fires and plumes of black smoke rising from some locations that had been hit.

Hundreds of Hamas fighters simultaneously attacked by land, air and sea, repeatedly breaching the fortified barrier between Gaza and Israel.

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Video shows fighters on a captured Israeli tank along the Israel-Gaza border

Armed militants on a captured Israeli tank near the Gaza-Israel border © Reuters

Images and videos showed motorbikes carrying armed militants riding through a hole in a wire fence along the border and a bulldozer destroying part of the barrier. Bombs, rockets and drones could also be seen blowing up the fence as well as defensive positions.

Video description

Armed Hamas militants break into Israel

Video shows armed militants breaking through a hole in a wire fence section of the border and a bulldozer destroying part of the barrier © Reuters

Militants used motorised paragliders to attack the Supernova music festival, not far from the Gaza border, flying in and turning the two-day rave into the site of a massacre.

Map showing the location of Supernova music festival attacked by Hamas

Gunmen chased young Israelis across the desert, shooting and snatching people to take back to Gaza as hostages. The Israeli military failed to respond for hours, apparently caught by surprise by the attack. Hundreds of bodies have been recovered from the site.

Video description

Drone footage captures the aftermath of Hamas’s attack on the Supernova music festival

Drone footage captures the aftermath of Hamas’s attack on the Supernova music festival © Telegram

After breaching the Gaza fence, armed Hamas fighters began targeting Israeli communities at several locations, going door-to-door and taking hostages. The Hamas militants also attacked Israeli military sites.

Images and video show people lying dead in the streets after execution-style killings and residents including women, children and the elderly being taken away.

More than 1,200 Israeli civilians and troops were killed, the IDF said — making it the deadliest attack on the country since its foundation.

The complexity of the assault by Hamas was unlike anything Israel has witnessed in decades. It raised serious questions about the security service’s intelligence gathering and the military’s preparedness for an attack.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu imposed a “complete siege” on Gaza on October 9, calling up a record 300,000 reservists and ordering the strip to be pounded from the air.

Israel’s military also ordered the evacuation of 42 communities along its northern border, where Israelis have died in cross-border fire that Israel blamed on Hizbollah or Lebanon-based Palestinian factions — part of the Iran-backed “Axis of Resistance”.

Visual and Data team: Jana Tauschinski, Janina Conboye, Peter Andringa, Steven Bernard, Chris Campbell, Sam Joiner, Lucy Rodgers and Alan Smith

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024. All rights reserved.
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