A UN team inspects an unexploded bomb lying on a main road in Khan Younis, Gaza. Image: UNOCHA/Themba Linden

Unexploded Bombs and Bodies Lay Beneath Gaza Debris


Israel’s ongoing military offensive in Gaza has left a staggering 37 million tonnes of debris strewn across Gaza, with UN experts warning that the process of clearing unexploded bombs could extend over a daunting 14-year period. Although the exact magnitude of unexploded munitions remains unknown, there is growing concern over the potential presence of “hundreds of thousands of tonnes of asbestos” within the debris.

According to the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), much of the 37 million tonnes of debris in Gaza is laced with unexploded ordnance. To put that in context, that’s more rubble than in Ukraine. UN mine action experts estimate that some 7,500 tonnes of unexploded ordnance could be “scattered” throughout Gaza.

Chief of the UNMAS in Palestine Mungo Birch noted that this debris includes some 800,000 tonnes of asbestos and various other contaminants. “The problem is there’s more rubble in Gaza than there is space to spread it out.”

According to UNMAS, around 10 percent of bombs that were dropped on the Gaza Strip during the war were unexploded. “At least 10 percent of the ammunition that is being fired potentially fails to function…with 100 trucks we’re talking about 14 years of work with 100 trucks, so that’s 14 years to remove with about 750,000 workdays – person workdays – to remove the debris,” a senior officer from the UNMAS Pehr Lodhammar underscored.

According to the rights organization Humanity & Inclusion, an estimated 45,000 bombs were dropped on the Gaza Strip in the first three months of the conflict, adding that Explosive remnants of war (ERW) are likely to cost more lives in Gaza, especially complex and disabling injuries – whether temporary or permanent – that would require immediate medical attention. 

Explosive remnants of war encompass munitions that, during conflict, have failed to detonate upon impact. This failure can occur due to technical malfunctions or deliberate programming for delayed detonation, posing ongoing hazards long after the cessation of hostilities.

At least two individuals recently suffered serious injuries in Gaza after opening tin cans initially misidentified as booby-trapped food, but which contained fuses for mines. It is these devices, UNMAS underscored, that the Israeli military has been using to detonate larger explosive charges to destroy tunnels and demolish buildings allegedly connected to Hamas militants.

Ahmed Samour, a 14-year-old boy, was seriously injured by explosives hidden inside a perfume bottle. The teenager lost his fingers and sustained severe injuries to his legs during the incident in the rubble of his Gaza home.

It’s also estimated that over 10,000 individuals are entombed beneath the rubble as a result of intense Israeli bombardment across extensive swaths of the Gaza Strip, which resulted in the leveling of entire neighborhoods through airstrikes, ground assaults, and naval attacks. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) added that the retrieval of these bodies may span up to three years, hampered by the limited resources and tools available. With temperatures on the rise, there’s a heightened risk of rapid decomposition, potentially exacerbating the spread of disease.

According to OCHA, the Palestinian Civil Defense Authority faces monumental obstacles in recovering the deceased due to a severe shortage of essential equipment such as bulldozers, excavators, and trained personnel.

At least 34,735 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s ongoing offensive on the Gaza Strip since last October. Gaza’s Health Ministry said that 78,108 other people have also been injured in the onslaught.

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