Israeli quadcopter drone

A photo shows an Israeli quadcopter drone flying over Palestinian demonstrations near Khan Younis, Gaza.

(Photo: Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images)

Probe Documents Israeli Use of AI-Equipped 'Small Killer Drones' Against Civilians in Gaza

"Israel is intentionally using them to target Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip," said the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor.

In addition to 2,000-pound bombs, attack helicopters, and other large military equipment, Israeli forces have "systematically" deployed small unmanned drones equipped with explosives, machine guns, and artificial intelligence to attack civilians in the Gaza Strip, according to an investigation published Monday by a Geneva-based human rights group.

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said it has confirmed dozens of civilian deaths from Israel's "small killer drones," including Matrice 600 and LANIUS models.

Elbit Systems, the Israel-based military contractor that makes LANIUS, describes the unmanned aircraft as "a highly maneuverable and versatile drone-based loitering munition designed for short-range operation in the urban environment." A promotional video from Elbit says the drones are "equipped with AI technologies" that allow them to navigate buildings and detect targets.

The drones, according to the video, can also respond to identified targets with "lethality" and have a mode to "perform ad hoc lethal ambush."

On February 12, according to Euro-Med, a small Israeli drone killed two brothers—19-year-old Muhib Osama Ezz El-Din Abu Jama and 17-year-old Elyas Osama Ezz El-Din Abu Jama—at a refugee camp in the overcrowded Gaza city of Rafah, which Israel's military is preparing to invade.

The father of the two teenagers, who was wounded in the February 12 attack, told the human rights monitor that an Israeli quadcopter drone opened fire "right at our tent."

That same day, a small Israeli drone killed 16-year-old Mahmoud Alaa Awad Al-Assar and his 21-year-old sister, Asmaa Alaa Awad Al-Assar, at a refugee camp northwest of Rafah, Euro-Med found.

A month earlier, an Israeli drone fired on "Palestinians who had gathered to receive flour brought by United Nations trucks."

"Fifty Palestinians were killed and dozens more were injured during the January 11 incident," the group said. "Testimonies gathered by Euro-Med Monitor indicate that dozens of residents gathered on Al-Rashid Street, which had been devastated by Israeli bulldozers in recent weeks, and were awaiting the arrival of the trucks. The quadcopter drones arrived suddenly, however, and started shooting at the residents."

Euro-Med said that Palestinian health workers "have noticed that the bodies of most victims of the aforementioned executions and field killings show evidence of unusual gunshots, which differ from ordinary gunshots in that they leave a different shape on the victim's body when they penetrate it."

"The majority of Israel's targeting takes place in public spaces where it is easy to distinguish fighters from civilians."

Critics of drone warfare and AI-equipped weapons systems have described the proliferation of small unmanned drones in combat zones as a "nightmare scenario." Israel did not sign on to a U.S.-led declaration last year calling for urgent steps to ensure the "responsible military use of artificial intelligence and autonomy," and it has made extensive use of AI in its catastrophic assault on Gaza.

In November, Politicoreported that Israel's war on Gaza has created "new demand for cutting-edge defense technology—often supplied directly by newer, smaller manufacturers, outside the traditional nation-to-nation negotiations for military supplies." Several American tech companies, including Shield AI and Skydio, have provided Israel with small self-piloting drones, Politico noted.

"While many of the U.S.-built, AI-enabled drones sent to Israel are not armed and not programmed by the manufacturers to identify specific vehicles or people, these airborne robots are designed to leave room for military customers to run their own custom software, which they often prefer to do," the outlet added, citing multiple unnamed manufacturers.

Euro-Med said Monday that while the use of drones is not prohibited under international law, "their use must adhere to international humanitarian law regulations that apply to armed conflicts, just like any other weapon."

But Israel is "Israel is intentionally using them to target Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip," the group said, observing that "the majority of Israel's targeting takes place in public spaces where it is easy to distinguish fighters from civilians."

Euro-Med added that Israel's small drones, which are frequently spotted hovering in Gaza, "are also being used to terrorize, intimidate, and harm the psychological well-being of Palestinians" in the besieged enclave.

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