A resort hotel overlooking the Mediterranean. A multistory courthouse built in 2018. Dozens of homes, obliterated in seconds, with the pull of a trigger.
The damage caused by Israel’s aerial offensive in Gaza has been well documented. But Israeli ground forces have also carried out a wave of controlled explosions that has drastically changed the landscape in recent months.
At least 33 controlled demolitions have destroyed hundreds of buildings — including mosques, schools and entire sections of residential neighborhoods — since November, a New York Times analysis of Israeli military footage, social media videos and satellite imagery shows.
In response to questions about the demolitions, a spokesperson for the Israeli military said that soldiers are “locating and destroying terror infrastructures embedded, among other things, inside buildings” in civilian areas — adding that sometimes entire neighborhoods act as “combat complexes” for Hamas fighters.
Israeli officials, who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the issue, said that Israel wanted to demolish Palestinian buildings close to the border as part of an effort to create a security “buffer zone” inside Gaza, making it harder for fighters to carry out cross-border attacks like the ones in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
But most of the demolition locations identified by The Times occurred well outside the so-called buffer zone. And the number of confirmed demolitions — based on the availability of visual evidence — may represent only a portion of the actual number carried out by Israel since the war began.
Where the Israeli military conducted controlled demolitions in Gaza
Location of demolition shown in video
Areas damaged during the war
To carry out these demolitions, soldiers enter the targeted structures to place mines or other explosives, and then leave to pull the trigger from a safe distance. In most cases, Israeli troops have cleared and secured surrounding areas. But in areas of active fighting, the demolitions are not without risk.
Twenty-one Israeli soldiers were killed last week as their unit prepared to detonate multiple buildings near the border in central Gaza. Palestinian fighters fired a rocket-propelled grenade in their direction, triggering the explosives, Israeli officials said.
The soldiers were clearing the area to allow residents of southern Israel to safely return to their homes, according to Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief spokesman for Israel’s military.
In December, a State Department spokesman, Matthew Miller, said that the creation of a buffer zone along Gaza’s roughly 36-mile border with Israel would be “a violation” of Washington’s longstanding position against the reduction of territory in Gaza. And experts on humanitarian law say the demolitions — which would prevent some Palestinians from eventually returning to their homes — could violate rules of war prohibiting the deliberate destruction of civilian property.
In one video of a demolition from late November, a controlled explosion took down at least four high-rise residential buildings just blocks away from a major hospital in Gaza City. Another demolition in December destroyed over a dozen buildings around the city’s central Palestine Square, which the Israeli military said was home to a large network of tunnels.
Controlled demolition in Palestine Square, Gaza City
At least half the buildings in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed since the start of the war, according to satellite analysis estimates. While much of the damage is from airstrikes and fighting, the large controlled demolitions represent some of the single most destructive episodes.
In the town of Khuza’a, along the buffer zone to the east of Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, videos from early January show soldiers triggering several detonations, destroying nearly 200 homes. Other videos show the soldiers setting off flares and clapping as they carry out a demolition.
Controlled demolitions in Khuza’a
One of the largest demolitions identified by The Times was carried out in Shuja’iyya, a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Gaza City. Over three weeks, scores of homes in the same neighborhood were razed, according to satellite imagery from December.
Controlled demolition in Shuja’iyya, Gaza City
In some videos, the demolitions appear to be targeting underground infrastructure. Others capture the destruction of mosques, U.N.-affiliated schools and university buildings — including the demolition of Israa University in mid-January, which drew widespread condemnation after the video circulated online.
Controlled demolition of Israa University, Gaza City
After U.S. officials raised questions about the decision to demolish the university, the Israeli military said the episode was “under review.” While the site had been cleared and secured by Israeli ground troops, military officials said it had once served as a Hamas training camp and weapons-manufacturing facility — a claim The Times was unable to verify.
“That it has previously been used by enemy fighters is not a justification for such a destruction,” said Marco Sassòli, a professor of international law at the University of Geneva, who emphasized that such demolitions should only be carried out if absolutely necessary for military operations. “I cannot imagine how this can be the case for a university, parliament building, mosque, school or hotel in the midst of the Gaza Strip.”
A spokesperson for the Israeli military said that all actions by Israeli forces are “based on military necessity and with accordance to international law.”
For Palestinians, the demolitions are yet another symbol of loss and destruction in Gaza, raising questions about the territory’s future after decades of displacement and war.
“Israel’s plan is to destroy Gaza and make it unliveable and lifeless,” said Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to Britain. “Israel’s goal has always been to make it impossible for our people to return to their land.”
Two days after the 21 Israeli soldiers were killed in central Gaza, another demolition video was filmed. In it, a soldier says that, in their memory, 21 homes would be destroyed.
Controlled demolition in Bani Suheila, Khan Younis
The soldiers in the video start counting down, and a huge explosion follows.
Sources and methodology
Satellite images by Planet Labs. The image of Palestine Square in Gaza City was captured on Dec. 24, 2023. The image of Khuza’a was captured on Jan. 16, 2024. The image of Shuja’iyya in Gaza City was captured on Dec. 26, 2023.
Times reporters reviewed and verified dozens of videos from official Israeli military sources, news outlets and social media accounts, including posts from soldiers who carried out the demolitions in Gaza. Reporters cross-referenced the footage against satellite imagery and geospatial databases to confirm the date, location and spatial extent of the demolitions.
Aric Toler, Patrick Kingsley and Aaron Boxerman contributed reporting. Meg Felling contributed video production.