May 26, 2024

Civilian Casualties

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Police officers photographed from the rear in front of large apartment buildings.
Police officers stood outside several apartment buildings damaged after a drone attack in Moscow on Tuesday. Credit…Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A day after a drone strike on Moscow, Kremlin officials jumped on the refusal of Ukrainian allies to denounce the attack as proof that Russia’s real war was with the West.

The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said Russia “would have preferred to hear at least some words of condemnation” from Western capitals.

“We will calmly and deliberately think how to deal with this,” he said.

While none of Ukraine’s allies went so far as to endorse the drone attack, Britain’s foreign secretary said on Tuesday that Kyiv had “the right to project force beyond its borders.”

The U.S. response was more circumspect, but it stopped short of criticizing the first military strike to hit civilian areas in the Russian capital since the start of the war. Ukraine officials have said they were not “directly involved” in the drone strike.

From the outset of the conflict, Russia has portrayed the invasion of Ukraine as a defensive war provoked by the West, and on Wednesday it seized on the attack.

Dmitri A. Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s national security council and a former president, said Britain “de facto is leading an undeclared war against Russia” by providing Ukraine with military aid and called it “our eternal enemy.”

Known since the war began for staking out extreme positions, Mr. Medvedev argued that now any British official “can be considered as a legitimate military target.”

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A man sitting at a desk in front of papers, next to a flag.
Dmitri A. Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s national security council, accused Britain of “leading an undeclared war against Russia.”Credit…Ekaterina Shtukina/Sputnik

The Russian ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, called the U.S. refusal to condemn the attack “an encouragement for Ukrainian terrorists,” his embassy said on the Telegram messaging app.

Russia has repeatedly hit civilian areas of Ukraine over the course of the war, though it has denied targeting nonmilitary sites. And in recent weeks it has turned up the barrage of missiles and attack drones aimed at Kyiv, the capital. Thousands of Ukrainian civilians, including children, have been killed in Russian airstrikes and artillery bombardments, U.N. officials say.

Though the drone strike on Tuesday was unusual, it was not the first one on Russian soil since the war began. Drones have hit military air bases deep inside Russia, as well as an oil facility near an airfield in the province of Kursk. And this month, drones exploded over the Kremlin.

The incursions continued on Wednesday, when, the Russian authorities said, Ukrainian drones attacked two oil refineries in the region of Krasnodar. They also said that four people had been injured by shelling in the border region of Belgorod.

Russia has long accused the West of waging a proxy war against it. Those claims grew louder this month when a group of Ukraine-based Russian paramilitary members staged a multiday raid in Russia’s Belgorod border region — apparently with U.S. armored vehicles.

A New York Times analysis found that at least three of what appeared to be American-made MRAPs had been part of the attack. A leader of one of the groups claimed the weapons had not been provided by the Ukrainian military.

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Damaged armored military vehicles stand in mud after a fight.
The aftermath of a cross-border raid in Russia’s Belgorod region last week. The image was released by the Russian military.Credit…Russian Defense Ministry Press Service

Russian officials have said that NATO’s decision to send weapons, which have become increasingly advance as the war has worn on, raises the risk of a direct confrontation and a potential nuclear war.

On Tuesday, President Vladimir V. Putin also made an oblique reference to this threat, calling the drone strike on Moscow an attempt “to create a response reaction from Russia.” He accused unspecified forces of trying to sabotage a Ukrainian nuclear plant occupied by Russia or to use “a type of a dirty bomb related to the nuclear industry.”

Although Western governments initially focused their military support for Ukraine on bolstering its defenses, over time, the desire to hasten an end the war has led to growing deliveries of offensive weapons to Kyiv.

Tensions between Moscow and Western capitals have worsened since the invasion, as have the economic sanctions imposed on Russia as penalty.

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The Russian president standing in an office with flags.
President Vladimir V. Putin said the drone strike in Moscow was an attempt “to create a response reaction from Russia.”Credit…Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik

At a security conference on Wednesday in Slovakia, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, said that Western allies must give Ukraine “tangible and credible” security guarantees in its battle against Russia.

“If we want a credible, durable peace, if we want to hold our own against Russia, if we want to be credible with the Ukrainians, we must give Ukraine the means to prevent any new aggression and to include Ukraine in any new security architecture,” he said in a speech.

Mr. Macron was criticized early in the war over his insistence on not antagonizing Russia, but his approach toward Mr. Putin has hardened. He also expressed regret that France and other Western European countries had failed to heed warnings from countries on the European Union’s eastern edge about Russian belligerence.

On Wednesday, Germany said it had ordered four of the five Russian Consulates in the country to close after Moscow limited the number of German diplomatic staff allowed in Russia, the latest in an escalating tit-for-tat diplomatic dispute between the two countries.

The Russian Foreign Ministry was told to start shutting down its consulates in Germany immediately and to finish by the end of the year, said Christofer Burger, a spokesman for Germany’s Foreign Ministry.

One Russian Consulate and the Russian Embassy in Berlin will be allowed to remain open.

In Sweden, the U.S. secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken met with European officials on Wednesday to discuss trade and technology issues, cracking down on exports that could aid Russia.

On Thursday, Mr. Blinken is scheduled to meet with NATO foreign ministers to discuss the alliance summit planned for July, as well as the war in Ukraine and the prospects for Swedish membership in the alliance.

The rubble of a destroyed home.

A hole left by a bomb that entered the home of the Khoswan family, in a strike on an Islamic Jihad member who lived below, in Gaza City.

As the Khoswan family slept, the Israeli military dropped three GBU-39 bombs into their sixth-floor apartment. One of the bombs exploded just outside the parents’ bedroom, leaving the apartment looking as if a tornado had swept through, killing three family members.

But they were not the stated target of the attack earlier this month.

The Israeli military had dropped the bombs into their home to assassinate a commander of the Palestinian armed group Islamic Jihad who lived in the apartment below.

Jamal Khoswan, a dentist, Mirvat Khoswan, a pharmacist, and their son, a 19-year-old dental student, were killed in the strike as well as the Islamic Jihad commander who lived downstairs, Tareq Izzeldeen, and two of his children, a girl, 11, and a boy, 9.

“Commanders have been targeted before,” Menna Khoswan, 16, said this month at a memorial service for her father at the hospital where he served as chairman of the board. “But to target the commander and those around him, honestly this is something we didn’t expect.”

Israel says that it conducts “precision strikes” aimed at taking out armed groups’ commanders or operation sites, and that it does not target civilians. But the airstrikes are often conducted in heavily populated areas, and many Palestinians in Gaza say they amount to a collective punishment aimed at making them fearful about who their neighbors might be.

Israel also destroys entire residential buildings or towers if it believes an armed group has an office or apartment there, although it usually issues an evacuation warning beforehand.

Menna’s parents and brother were among at least 12 civilians killed by Israeli strikes during five days of fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad this month, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Israel says that nine civilians were killed in the strikes.

People standing under a banner with Arabic writing.
Menna Khoswan, center, at a memorial service for her father at the hospital where he served as chairman of the board.

Six senior leaders of the armed group that Israel said had been responsible for rocket attacks on Israel were killed before a cease-fire was reached on May 13. The Israeli military said that Islamic Jihad had launched nearly 1,500 rockets indiscriminately toward Israel over the course of several days. Two people were killed in Israel, including an Israeli woman and a Palestinian worker from Gaza.

Members of the Khoswan family say they knew that an Islamic Jihad commander lived in the apartment below them and worried that he could be the target of an Israeli strike. Israel has designated Islamic Jihad as a terrorist organization — as have countries including the United States and Japan — and has regularly targeted its leaders and fighters.

Yet the Khoswans never thought their apartment would be hit while they were inside, Menna said, describing the shock of being awakened by the explosions ripping through her home.

The Israeli military said it had twice postponed the assassinations of the three Islamic Jihad commanders to ensure suitable operational conditions and minimize civilian casualties. But the military did not respond to questions about why it had targeted the three Islamic Jihad commanders on May 9 while they were at home or why it had launched the three bombs targeting the Islamic Jihad commander through the Khoswan home.

The Israeli military “didn’t choose to kill the dentist,” said Nir Dinar, an Israeli army spokesman, declining to comment further.

The Israeli military released videos of the strikes it carried out, including one showing a man it accused of having fired rockets at Israel being struck in the middle of a road on a bicycle. Another showed a man walking in the courtyard of a complex of buildings for several seconds before entering a building. Once he went inside, the building was blown up.

The military said the videos showed how it had waited for targets to be alone before striking.

During the five days of fighting this month, Israeli strikes destroyed 103 homes, and more than 2,800 others were damaged, according to Gaza’s public works department.

The facade of a destroyed building.
Over the course of five days this month, Israeli strikes destroyed 103 homes and damaged more than 2,800, according to Gaza’s public works department.
A man kneels over missile debris.
An unexploded GBU 39 bomb fired from an Israeli aircraft, according to ordnance officials in Gaza, along with other ordnance fragments, in Gaza City.

Amnesty International has previously said that Israel’s pattern of attacks on residential homes in Gaza displayed a disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians and could amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity.

In the 11-day 2021 war between Hamas and Israel, Israel struck four tower buildings, destroying three of them; one had housed some of the world’s leading news media organizations, including The Associated Press and Al Jazeera.

The Israeli military said that it had destroyed the tower because the building also contained military assets belonging to Hamas, the political and armed group which controls and governs Gaza. The A.P. reported that at the time that the tower’s owner had been “told he had an hour to make sure everyone has left the building.”

Fearing that Israel would destroy entire buildings because they contained offices or homes belonging to members of armed groups, residents of some buildings posted signs in their lobbies warning against renting to departments linked to the Hamas-led government.

Israel has long accused Palestinian armed groups in Gaza of hiding among civilians and using them as human shields. Because the armed groups are homegrown, they live side by side among the people and their command centers are spread throughout Gaza.

Leaders and members of the groups say that Israel’s airstrikes are aimed at hurting the civilian population to undermine public support for them. The groups have wide support among Palestinians for their resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Since the 2021 war, Hamas says it has begun moving its offices away from important infrastructure such as hospitals and schools.

Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader in Gaza, said his group’s members lived in their own communities in the tiny enclave that is home to more than 2.3 million people.

“Where should we go? Should we flee Palestine? Can we go set up a military base in Colorado?” he said. “They target the civilians so they can pit people against us.”

South of Gaza City, Ghada Abu Ebeid, 50, this month was living with a relative near the remains of her family’s two-story house, which was destroyed by an Israeli bomb in the recent fighting that also sheared off the fronts of nearby buildings.

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People walking among the ruins of a destroyed home.
The remains of the Abu Ebeid family home in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, after it was destroyed by the Israeli military.

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A man in a red cap holding a child, next to people sitting on the ground.
A family sitting in the rubble of their house, which was destroyed by Israeli bombing in Jabalia, in northern Gaza.

An hour before the strike, the Israeli military warned residents up to 100 meters away to evacuate their homes, according to the Abu Ebeid family and neighbors.

When asked about the attack, the military referred to a statement saying that it had targeted Islamic Jihad command-and-control centers from which they operate and direct rockets toward Israel.

Ms. Ebeid would not say why she believed Israel had demolished their home. Neighbors said that one of her sons was a member of Islamic Jihad.

Many Gaza residents acknowledge that they do worry about who might move in next door, fearing that their neighbors could become targets. But they put the blame squarely on Israel.

“What kind of precision is this when you kill civilians?” said Asmahan Adas, referring to a strike on the home of her next-door neighbor, Khalil al-Bahtini, another Islamic Jihad commander, that also killed her two teenage daughters. “When Israel wants to kill someone, they can find many different ways to kill, but they want others to die along with their target.”

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A man holds a teddy bear in a destroyed home.
Alaa Adas, the father of Iman, 17, and Dania, 19, who died in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza, in the bedroom where they were killed.
A woman sits on a sofa near two people who are standing. Behind her is a pencil drawing of a woman.
Asmahan Adas, whose daughters were killed by an Israeli airstrike this month, received mourners at her parents’ house, east of Gaza City

Ms. Adas said that when she knew Mr. Bahtini was at home, she would move her two daughters to the far side of their home, fearing that Israeli bombs could destroy the rooms closest to him.

On the night of May 9, she was unaware that Mr. Bahtini had returned home. Before she went to bed, Ms. Adas said good night to her two daughters, Iman, 17, and Dania, 19, who were sitting on their beds, watching cellphone videos and laughing, she said.

Minutes later, shortly after 2 a.m., three GBU-39 bombs pierced the roof of Mr. Bahtini’s second-floor home, killing him, his wife and 5-year-old daughter. The blast also ripped through the bedroom of Ms. Adas’ teenager daughters, burying them in rubble.

A week later, Ms. Adas wept as she received mourners at her parents’ house. Dania was to be married on July 21. Now, her fiancé visits her grave every day to talk to her.

“I had dreams of taking my daughter out of our home in her wedding dress, not in a burial shroud,” Ms. Adas said. “They took everything from me in a second, just so they could kill one person.”

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A man stands in front of graves.
Mohammad Saad, 19, whose fiancée, Dania Adas, was killed in an Israeli airstrike, standing at her grave and reciting a passage from the Quran.