Record number of civilians hurt by explosives in 2023

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Palestinians react after a reported Israeli air strike hits a car in Rafah, southern GazaImage source, AFP

Last year saw the highest number of civilian casualties killed or injured by explosives in more than a decade, according to new research.

The UK-based charity Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) recorded a 122% percent increase in civilian fatalities caused by explosives in 2023.

The rise is largely due to the war being fought between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Conflicts in Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia also contributed.

Research by the London-based charity is used by international forums such as the UN. It has also presented its evidence to the UK’s Parliament.

In 2023, AOAV identified at least 7,307 explosive incidents around the globe, up from 4,322 recorded the previous year.

The attacks caused the deaths of at least 15,305 civilians, accounting for a rise of 122% from 2022. Tens of thousands more were injured.

AOAV describes Israel’s war in Gaza as “a major cause for such a dramatic increase” in civilian casualties, accounting for around one third of the global total.

It recorded 920 incidents of explosive weapons use in Gaza, resulting in 9,334 people being killed. That is lower than other estimates.

AOAV says its data does not capture all harm, but does highlight clear trends in explosive violence. It says the data includes reports from reputable media organisations.

Israel’s military operation, which began on 7 October in response to the Hamas attacks, also contributed to a huge increase in the number of air strikes recorded, the charity said.

AOAV says the use of air-launched weapons across the globe increased by 226% in 2023 – rising from 519 incidents in 2022 to 1,694 last year.

Israel has repeatedly stated it has taken unprecedented steps to avoid civilian casualties, including issuing warnings in advance of air strikes.

But AOAV’s research shows that when explosive weapons are used in populated areas, the vast majority of those injured are likely to be civilians.

AOAV’s director, Iain Overton, says its data should be a stark warning to states that using explosive weapons in urban areas disproportionately impacts civilians.

The charity also recorded a significant increase in the use of ground-launched weapons in 2023.

Israel ‘most injurious state actor’

Across the globe state actors were responsible for 77% of the civilian casualties caused by explosives.

AOAV says Israel “was by far the most injurious state actor in 2023”, with more than 1,000 attacks leading to 12,950 civilian casualties – dead and injured.

Russia was second, with its war in Ukraine causing 8,351 civilian casualties.

Ongoing conflicts in Sudan, Myanmar, Syria and Somalia also contributed to the highest civilian casualties recorded by AOAV since 2010.

Non-state actors, including militants and proscribed groups, were also behind the increase in the use of explosive weapons last year. However, AOAV recorded the number of civilians killed by non-state actors as falling by 8%.

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