Israel destroys apartment building in Nablus, 50 Palestinians, mostly children homeless

On Friday morning, 5 September 2003, Israeli occupying forces destroyed a 7-storey apartment building in Nablus in which 8 families lived.  The destruction took place following an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and a Palestinian gunman.  The gunman was killed during the fire-fight after sustaining several gunshot wounds. 

The destruction of the apartment building appears to have been an act of collective punishment and retaliation against Palestinian civilians,  an act prohibited under international humanitarian law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.  According to an investigation carried out by PCHR fieldworkers, Israeli occupying forces destroyed the building after the military operation had ended, and without having given the inhabitants the opportunity to evacuate their belongings. 

At approximately 22:30 on Thursday, 4 September 2003, an undercover unit of Israeli occupying forces moved into al-Makhfiya neighborhood in the southwest of Nablus, using 4 Palestinian taxis and a Ford minibus.  Israeli soldiers surrounded a 600-square-meter, 7-storey apartment building owned by Ja’far Rezeq al-Masri.  Soon, about 30 Israeli military vehicles moved into the area, accompanied by a helicopter gun ship.  Israeli soldiers used megaphones to order the residents of the building and neighboring houses to get out.  The residents were gathered together and taken to the nearby Sa’id Ben ‘Aamer elementary school, where they were detained for several hours.   Israeli soldiers then broke into the building, and, after coming under fire from the Palestinian gunman, evacuated the building. 

At approximately 03:00 on Friday, 5 September 2003, Israeli forces attacked the fourth floor of the building with anti-tank missiles and broke into the building once again.  A few hours later, Israeli soldiers were seen taking the gunman’s body out of the building.  Later, he was identified as “Mohammed Yousef” ‘Abdul Rahim al-Hanbali, 28, an engineer from Nablus.  Israeli occupying forces claimed that al-Hanbali was wanted for being the northern West Bank leader of ‘Ezziddin al-Qassam, the military wing of the Hamas movement.  At approximately 09:00, as the Israeli military operation came to a close, occupying soldiers planted explosives on the first floor of the building.  The building was completely leveled by the explosion.  As a result, 48 Palestinians (8 families), including 30 children, have become homeless.    

PCHR strongly condemns the destruction of this apartment, and asserts that such policies of collective punishment and attacks on civilian property constitute war crimes under international humanitarian law. Over the last several weeks Israeli occupying forces have increasingly perpetrated war crimes against Palestinian civilians and property.  PCHR calls upon the international community to end its silence and immediately intervene to stop these attacks, especially the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, who are legally obligated to ensure respect for the Convention and take crucial steps to stop violations of the Convention perpetrated by Israeli occupying forces in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.