As criticism mounted of Israel’s mass detention of Palestinian men in Gaza, the government defended the roundup, saying it needed to detain hundreds of men to determine if any of them were connected to Hamas.
The detentions sparked outrage after photos and video of the detainees — tied up outdoors and stripped to their underwear — spread widely on social media on Thursday.
On Friday, an Israeli government spokesman, Eylon Levy, said Israeli forces had detained men in Jabaliya and Shajaiye, areas in northern Gaza that have seen punishing airstrikes and fierce fighting in recent days. Israel has described those areas as strongholds for Hamas, which has governed Gaza since it seized power there in 2007.
“We’re talking about military-age men who were discovered in areas that civilians were supposed to have evacuated weeks ago,” Mr. Levy said. “Those individuals will be questioned and we will work out who indeed was a Hamas terrorist and who is not.”
But critics said that mass detentions and humiliating treatment could violate the laws of war, and that many people could not evacuate because of poor health, disability or the expense of fleeing.
In addition, a Washington, D.C.-based fund-raiser for a group that raises money for the U.N. agency that assists Palestinians, Hani Almadhoun, said two of his relatives who were detained, ages 13 and 72, were not of military age.
Brian Finucane, an analyst at the International Crisis Group and a former legal adviser to the U.S. State Department, said on Friday that the treatment of detainees seemed inconsistent with international law.
“The presumption that military-aged males are combatants is troubling,” he said, and the fact that Israel ordered an evacuation “does not mean they can presumptively round up or detain people who disregarded it.”
International law sets “a very high bar” for an occupying power to detain noncombatants, he said, and requires that they be treated humanely. “That prohibits outrages on personal dignity and humiliating and degrading treatment,” he added.
Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, chief spokesman for the Israeli military, told reporters on Friday evening, “Over the past 48 hours, we have detained more than 200 suspects, dozens of whom have been transferred” to Israel, including Hamas commanders and fighters.
Israeli authorities, contacted on Friday, declined to address the treatment of the detainees. Speaking to CNN on Friday, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said that the men in the video were stripped “in order to make sure they’re not carrying explosives.”
Photos and video shared by Israeli media on Thursday showed men in the city of Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza, wearing only underwear and lined up in rows, surrounded by soldiers and military vehicles. The location was confirmed by an online researcher and independently verified by The Times.
Other images of stripped detainees kneeling in a sand pit were also published online. The Times matched these images with an Israeli soldier’s social media posts. It was not clear where they were taken, or if the detainees were the same people seen in the images from Beit Lahia.
In October, Israel dropped Arabic-language leaflets over northern Gaza instructing people to evacuate the region and warning that anyone who stayed “may be considered a partner in a terrorist organization.”
At the time, the U.N. special rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Francesca Albanese, said that designating civilians who were unwilling or unable to flee as accomplices to terrorism was a threat of collective punishment and could constitute ethnic cleansing.
Mr. Almadhoun, the fund-raiser in Washington, recognized his brother in one of the videos that was shared widely online. Israeli forces also detained his brother-in-law, 13-year-old nephew and 72-year-old father from their home in Beit Lahia, he said in an interview.
His relatives “have nothing to do with anything,” said Mr. Almadhoun, director of philanthropy for UNRWA USA, which raises money for the U.N. agency for Palestinians.
“My brother can’t even run two meters, much less fight,” he said. “This is an attempt to humiliate them, to make their families see them undressed. The Israelis are in a state of revenge.”
Mr. Almadhoun said that all four of his detained relatives had been released on Friday, which he believed was due in part to his advocacy on their behalf with the news media and the Biden administration.
On Friday, the International Committee of the Red Cross expressed “its concern regarding the recent reports/images” of the detentions.
“We strongly emphasize the importance of treating all those detained with humanity and dignity, in accordance with international humanitarian law,” the group said in a statement.
Many of the men in the photos and video have not been heard from since their detention, families and rights groups said. One is Diaa Al-Kahlout, a correspondent for Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, a news site based in Britain.
Layal Haddad, an editor at the site, said that she and her colleagues learned of his detention from Mr. Al-Kahlout’s wife, and that they later recognized him in one of the videos of men in their underwear.
She said Mr. Al-Kahlout had not evacuated because his oldest daughter, Nada, is partially paralyzed, and he wanted to keep reporting on the war in northern Gaza.
“He would keep saying, ‘There is nowhere safe, the north and south are not safe,’” said Ms. Haddad.
Christiaan Triebert and Chevaz Clarke contributed reporting.