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News Brief: At Al Mezan workshop, experts warn of health and environmental repercussions from Israeli bombing of agricultural chemical warehouse and call for decontamination and holistic response

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9 September 2021 |Reference 41/2021

On Thursday morning, 9 September 2021, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights held an expert workshop on the effects of Israel’s bombing and destruction of Gaza’s largest agricultural chemical warehouse during the May 2021 full-scale military assault on the Gaza Strip. The workshop was held because of serious concerns for the health of the population and environment, and impact on the agricultural sector, within a still-unfolding environmental disaster.  


As background, at around 5:50pm on Saturday, 15 May 2021, Israeli artillery forces to the north of Gaza fired tens of shells at the Khudair Group, causing its warehouse to catch fire. Civil defense and municipal crews were unable to control the fire due to its magnitude and the intensity of the Israeli shelling at the time. The efforts to extinguish the fire continued until 6 June 2021, during which time the crews used around 1,000 cubic meters of sand. The fire destroyed the warehouse in its entirety and caused high concentrations of smoke that lasted for days. The burning chemicals also released an unpleasant smell that forced nearby residents to leave their homes.  


Mr. Hussein Hammad of Al Mezan’s Research and Technical Assistance Unit explained that the Khudair Group’s warehouse—which is around 4,000 square meters in size and located in Beit Lahia, North Gaza—was used to store around 300 tons of highly hazardous pesticides and one thousand tons of fertilizer. The Group’s imports and supplies account for 35 percent of the available agricultural products in the Gaza Strip. The Khudair Group—comprised of Lamor for General Trade, Khudair Brothers, MEDOR General Trading and Contracting Company, and Al Barari General Trading—lead the import and marketing of agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, and agricultural supplies in the Gaza Strip.


Mr. Mahmoud Khudair, one of the company owners, provided an account of the attack on the warehouse, including the aftermath and destruction from the fire. Representatives of Gaza’s Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, Water and Environment Quality Authority, and the municipality of North Gaza also spoke about the roles of their authorities in addressing the crisis and their respective analysis and concerns.


In the ensuing discussion, the expert participants evaluated the health risks and unfolding environmental disaster arising from the incident, its repercussions on the agricultural sector, and mechanisms for urgent and safe disposal of the hazardous waste.


Mr. Samir Zaqout, Deputy Director at Al Mezan, also emphasized the Center’s concerns for the rights of inhabitants, in particular right to health and right to a sustainable and healthy environment.  


The participants concluded that an effective response to the disastrous incident should include:

  • An international intervention putting pressure on Israel to respect the protection guaranteed to civilians and civilian objects in times of conflict by customary international humanitarian law and to end its closure policy against Gaza.
  • A serious effort to create a comprehensive record of the incident that includes Israel’s direct responsibility for the fire and its repercussions. In addition, Israeli officials suspected of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity must be prosecuted to ensure full accountability for alleged crimes. To this end, the International Criminal Court must be duly informed of the incident.
  • The prompt and safe disposal of hazardous waste and debris in accordance with safety and precautionary measures.
  • The conduct of special laboratory tests for the soil, water, and crops around the incident site to mitigate any future risks.
  • The allocation of governmental funds for similar emergencies in the future.
  • The issuance of a manual for approved procedures related to hazardous waste and fire management in wartime, to be shared with the competent authorities.
  • The creation of special units at central landfills for the safe and permanent disposal of hazardous material remains.
  • The appointment of a designated body to unify governmental, civil, and international initiatives to address the environmental issues.
  • The mobilization of support to the Khudair group, so as to ensure the resumption of their work and its vital contribution to Gaza’s agricultural sector.