Screen grab from YouTube video showing destruction of a mosque in Khuzaa, in the southern Gaza Strip.

A video has emerged online showing Israeli soldiers cheering as explosives destroy a mosque allegedly linked to an underground tunnel network in Khuzaa, in the Gaza Strip - a reaction the Israel Defence Force says the soldiers are perfectly entitled to.

The video was filmed during an operation carried out on Thursday, July 30, by Israeli armed forces. In the distance, a mosque in the village of Khuzaa – a satellite of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip – can be seen. According to the Israel Defence Force (IDF), the mosque forms part of a network of tunnels that lead up to the Israeli border that Hamas militants use to stage attacks. The entrance to one tunnel was reportedly inside the mosque, making it – according to the IDF – a legitimate target. The IDF claims to have cleared the urban area surrounding the mosque before the explosion, and says there have been no associated deaths as far as it’s aware.

“Long live the state of Israel”

Read below for a full transcript of what the soldier says in the video:
 
We’re waiting for the explosion of something like eleven tons of explosive above – and below – the ground. This explosion is dedicated to the memory of the three people from the battalion who have fallen since the beginning of the operation – Amit Yeori of blessed memory, Guy Boylend of blessed memory, and Moshiko Dvino, of blessed memory. The battalion has been fighting in the operation since it started, under task force 84 – a Givati brigade task force. In the front you can see the mosque, where there is a shaft of a significant tunnel, which will also be part of the overall explosion that will be audible in a few seconds – throughout the village. In these moments the commander of the battalion is giving the commands over the communication network of the brigade, the network of the battalion, and in a few seconds an explosion will be heard. Long live the State of Israel!

At the end of the video, soldiers can be heard cheering as explosives ring out. An IDF spokesperson sent FRANCE 24 this video as proof that the operation was intended to dismantle a network of Hamas tunnels, the entrance to which was allegedly hidden by the mosque itself.
 
“Soldiers are perfectly entitled to be happy about destroying a tunnel used to carry out attacks against Israel"

An IDF spokesperson told FRANCE 24 that the soldiers’ cheering is down to “the fact that they just stopped future attacks on Israel,” and “that they can be sure it won’t be used for attacks, together with the excitement that would normally come from seeing an explosion of that size”. The spokesperson added: “Soldiers are perfectly entitled to be happy about destroying a tunnel used to carry out attacks against Israel.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Israeli forces warned residents to leave Khuzaa – a town of 10,000 residents - on July 21 before launching an assault two days later. The rights organisation accuses Israel’s armed forces of firing on and killing unarmed civilians fleeing the area. Gaza officials say more than 1,800 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began its offensive in the Gaza Strip, the majority of them civilians. Israel says 64 of its soldiers, along with three civilians, have also been killed.

“The bombardments are entirely random, they don’t target specifically the mosques”

Walid is a local resident and activist from Khuzaa who was forced to flee the village.

The mosque [destroyed in the video above] isn’t the only one that was blown up. The Israeli army destroyed all 17 mosques in the village and all the houses. Khuzaa is today a vast field of debris. The death has risen to 50 since bombardments began, and the majority of the residents – mainly farmers – fled to Khan Younis and took refuge in schools. Others stayed in Khuzaa to try to find victims buried under the piles of rubble.

The bombardments are entirely random, they don’t target specifically the mosques but all the buildings and infrastructure in the village. They even destroyed a school run by UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East: The organisation provides assistance and protection for Palestinian refugees].
This article was written by FRANCE 24 journalists Andrew Hilliar (@andyhilliar) and Djamel Belayachi.