The call came to the cellphone of his brother’s wife, Salah Kaware said on Tuesday. Mr. Kaware lives in Khan Younis, in southeast Gaza, and the caller said that everyone in the house must leave in five minutes, because it was going to be bombed.
A further warning came as they were leaving, he said in a telephone interview, when an Israeli drone apparently fired a flare at the roof of the three-story home. “Our neighbors came in to form a human shield,” he said, with some even going to the roof to try to prevent a bombing. Others were in the stairway when the house was bombed not long afterward.
The Israeli military said that targeted houses belonged to Hamas members involved in launching rockets or other military activity, and that they had been used as operations rooms.
Ahmed Kawarea said he ran home when he heard about the first rocket. The second missile hit when he was in the stairwell on his way to the roof.
“We are civilians,” he said. “We don’t have anyone who lives in the house who works in the resistance.”
But neighbors suggested that one of the occupants was a member of the military wing of Hamas. Soon after the house was hit, a man pulled a sidearm out of his waistband and scurried into the gutted building, saying he had been sent to retrieve a laptop computer from the debris.
Also, if there was only a five minute period between the warning and the human shields assembling, the targets in the house must have been the people calling their neighbors to act as human shields.
But the events on Tuesday were another example of a contentious Israeli policy in which occupants of a building about to be bombed or shelled are given a brief warning in Arabic to evacuate. The Israelis have used such telephone calls and leaflets for years now, in a stated effort to reduce civilian casualties and avoid charges of indiscriminate killings or even of crimes against the rules of war.
The phone call warning is part of a broader strategy. For years, the Israeli military has been using cellphone calls and small "warning rockets" — usually sent from drones — to tell people which buildings it is targeting and give them time to get out. It's a time-tested strategy for the Israeli military, and it even has a name: "roof knocking." Even if its intentions are good, however, it is a controversial tactic.
Some critics say the tactic amounts to psychological warfare. There are reports of "warnings" that are given but no bombing following. There are also instances in which a bombing is not preceded by a warning, or, worse still, the attack may mistakenly destroy the wrong target or produce wider collateral damage – always a risk in cramped areas such as Khan Younis. Human rights groups have argued that targeting the homes of militia members violates international humanitarian law, whether warnings are made or not.
Either way, the warnings are not always heeded. According to Kawarea, after the "warning rocket" hit her house, a group of young men ran inside. It was unclear whether they thought their presence would stop the bombing or whether they wanted to be martyrs.
In most cases, prior to the attacks, residents have been warned to leave, either via phone calls by the Israel military or by the firing of warning missiles."