Israel may have violated laws of war in Gaza, UN rights office says

Mourners react next to the bodies of Palestinians, killed in Israeli strikes due to a military operation in Rafah, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, during their funeral in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, June 18, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 19 June 2024
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Israel may have violated laws of war in Gaza, UN rights office says

  • The head of a UN inquiry accused the Israeli military of carrying out an “extermination” of Palestinians

GENEVA: Israeli forces may have repeatedly violated the laws of war and failed to distinguish between civilians and fighters in the Gaza conflict, the UN human rights office said on Wednesday.
Separately, the head of a UN inquiry accused the Israeli military of carrying out an “extermination” of Palestinians.
In a report on six deadly Israeli attacks, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said Israeli forces “may have systematically violated the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precautions in attack.”
“The requirement to select means and methods of warfare that avoid or at the very least minimize to every extent civilian harm appears to have been consistently violated in Israel’s bombing campaign,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said.
Israel’s permanent mission to the United Nations in Geneva characterised the analysis as “factually, legally, and methodologically flawed.” “Since the OHCHR has, at best, a partial factual picture, any attempt to reach legal conclusions is inherently flawed,” it said.
In a separate meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the head of a UN Commission of Inquiry, Navi Pillay, said perpetrators of abuses in the conflict must be brought to account.
She repeated findings from a report published last week that both Hamas militants and Israel have committed war crimes but said that Israel alone was responsible for the most serious abuses under international law known as “crimes against humanity.”
She said the scale of Palestinian civilian losses amounted to “extermination.”
“We found that the immense numbers of civilian casualties in Gaza and widespread destruction of civilian objects and infrastructure were the inevitable result of an intentional strategy to cause maximum damage,” Pillay, a former UN rights chief and South African judge, told the meeting.
Israel, which does not typically cooperate with the inquiry and alleges an anti-Israel bias, chose the mother of a hostage to speak on its behalf and criticized the report on the grounds that it did not give due attention to hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7.
“We can do better for them. The hostages need us,” Meirav Gonen, the mother of 23-year-old hostage Romi Gonen, said in a tearful appeal.

Heavy weaponry
Israel’s air and ground offensive has killed more than 37,400 people in the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory, according to health authorities there.
Israel launched its assault after Hamas fighters stormed across the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and taking more than 250 people hostage, according to Israeli tallies.
The UN rights office report details six incidents that took place between Oct. 7 and Dec. 2, in which it was able to assess the kinds of weapons, the means and the methods used in these attacks.
“We felt that it was important to get this report out now, especially because in the case of some of these attacks, some eight months have passed, and we are yet to see credible and transparent investigations,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN human rights office.
She added that in the absence of transparent investigations, there would be “a need for international action in this regard.”
Pillay also condemned Israel’s military methods in Gaza, saying the use of heavy weapons in densely populated areas “constitutes an intentional and direct attack on the civilian population.”
Commissioner Chris Sidoti later told reporters that its findings, which are being shared with the International Criminal Court, showed that Israel was “one of the most criminal armies in the world.”
He said the inquiry, which aims to investigate the treatment of hostages, as well as that of thousands of Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails, had so far been hindered by Israel.
“Far from having cooperation, what we have encountered is obstruction,” he said. 


UN chief says no alternative to UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA

Updated 5 sec ago
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UN chief says no alternative to UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA

NEW YORK: United Nations chief Antonio Guterres declared on Friday that there is no alternative to the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA and 118 countries backed the relief organization as indispensable, amid stepped up efforts by Israel to dismantle it.
The UN Relief and Works Agency provides education, health and aid to millions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Since war erupted nine months ago between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza, UN officials have stressed UNRWA is the backbone of aid operations.
“My appeal to everyone is this: Protect UNRWA, protect UNRWA staff, and protect UNRWA’s mandate — including through funding,” Guterres told an UNRWA pledging conference in New York on Friday. “Let me be clear: there is no alternative to UNRWA.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long-called for UNRWA to be dismantled, accusing it of anti-Israeli incitement, and Israel’s parliament is currently considering designating UNRWA as a terrorist organization.
Several countries halted their funding to UNRWA following accusations by Israel that some of the agency’s staff were involved in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel that triggered the Gaza war. Most donors have since resumed their funding, while the UN is conducting an internal investigation.
UNRWA has been hit hard during the conflict in Gaza — 195 staff have been killed.
“UNRWA is also being targeted in other ways,” Guterres said. “Staff have been the subject of increasingly violent protests and virulent misinformation and disinformation campaigns.”
“Some have been detained by Israeli security forces, and subsequently reported mistreatment and even torture,” he said, adding that in the West Bank the presence and movements of UNRWA staff have also been severely restricted by Israel.
The Israeli military has said it acts according to Israeli and international law and those it arrests get access to food, water, medication and proper clothing.
Israel accuses UNRWA of complicity with Hamas, saying the militant Islamist group was embedded within the UN agency’s infrastructure.
UNRWA was created by the UN General Assembly in 1949 following the first Arab-Israeli war. Jordan’s UN Ambassador Mahmoud Daifallah Hmoud said on Friday ahead of the pledging event that 118 countries had signed on to a joint statement supporting UNRWA and its work.
The statement underlined “that UNRWA is the backbone of all humanitarian response in Gaza, and recognizing that no organization can replace or substitute UNRWA’s capacity.”

Palestinian released from Israeli jail ‘came back from the dead’

Updated 15 min 36 sec ago
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Palestinian released from Israeli jail ‘came back from the dead’

  • Abayat, a butcher by trade, was arrested without explanation on October 26
  • He was held at a prison in the Negev desert

BETHLEHEM, Palestinian Territories: Muazzaz Abayat’s parents barely recognized their son lying in a hospital bed after being freed from nine months in Israeli detention, with his weight halved from his usual heavyset build, hollowed cheeks and shaggy hair.
“I came back from the dead,” the 37-year-old Palestinian, told AFP at a hospital in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank.
Abayat, a butcher by trade, was arrested without explanation on October 26, just over two weeks after the unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that sparked the Gaza war.
He was held at a prison in the Negev desert, officially under so-called administrative detention, which meant he could be held without charge or trial for an extended period.
“They arrested me at home, not surrounded by fighters but by my children and pregnant wife,” said Abayat, whose sixth child was born while he was in jail.
Detentions of West Bank Palestinians have soared since the war began on October 7, with regular use of administrative detentions.
According to the Prisoners Club, a Palestinian watchdog, about 9,700 Palestinians are currently in Israeli jails, including hundreds under administrative detention.
The NGO estimates that arrests have doubled since October 7 compared to the same period last year.
Violence has surged in the territory since the start of the Gaza war, with at least 572 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or settlers, according to the Palestinian authorities.
At least 16 Israelis have also died in Palestinian attacks, according to official Israeli figures.
In a video that went viral on social media when Abayat was freed Tuesday, he is seen limping and leaning on a man to walk, while his right hand seems paralyzed.
“No human being on the face of the earth can imagine how life has been” he said, calling the prison where he was held, “the ‘Guantanamo of the Negev’,” after the US prison in Cuba used to hold detainees after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
“We were unjustly detained, killed and severely beaten with iron clubs and subjected to all kinds of torture,” Abayat added.
Israel’s prison administration told AFP it was “not aware” of Abayat’s claims.
“All prisoners are detained according to the law. All basic rights required are fully applied by professionally trained prison guards,” an Israeli Prison Service (IPS) spokesperson told AFP.
“The prisoner was examined and treated medically by the IPS’ finest doctors throughout his incarceration.” The spokesperson said, Abayat could file a complaint if he wished.
Showing his bruised, bony legs, Abayat recounted beatings with clubs and chains, and said his body still hurt all over.
“They gave us 10 to 12 beans with pieces of cabbage, and we had to survive on that from 7.00 am until dinner time,” he said while explaining his dramatic weight loss.
A “before and after” photo montage of Abayat shared online shows a muscular man with a shaved head and trimmed beard — wildly different from the long dishevelled hair and messy beard of the man in the Bethlehem hospital.
“This is enough to tell what happened to me,” he said of the photos.
His father Khalil Abayat told AFP that his son “was a man who weighed about 100, 110 kilos (220 to 242 pounds) and was muscular.”
When Muazzaz stood on the hospital scale Wednesday, he weighed just 54 kilograms.
“When I saw Muazzaz, he was not the same Muazzaz my son was before his arrest,” said the father, shocked by the confusion his son seemed to suffer from.
“He doesn’t recognize me, he’s disorientated and his health is very low.”
Khalil added, however, that doctors had expressed confidence that Muazzaz’s condition would improve. The former detainee has started eating more.
From his hospital bed, Muazzaz admitted that he had “forgotten things.”
But he said he was not completely done with Israeli detention.
“I’ve left a small prison for the big prison” of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, he said.


Israeli strike kills 4 aid workers in Gaza ‘safe zone,’ UK-based group says

Updated 47 min 53 sec ago
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Israeli strike kills 4 aid workers in Gaza ‘safe zone,’ UK-based group says

  • The strike also killed three staffers from other aid groups using the warehouse, the Al-Khair foundation said
  • The warehouse was located in Muwasi, an area on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast that is part of a “humanitarian safe zone” where Israeli has told Palestinians to take refuge

GAZA: A UK-based aid group said one of its employees in Gaza was killed Friday in an Israeli strike that hit its warehouse located inside an Israeli-declared humanitarian safe zone. The strike also killed three staffers from other aid groups using the warehouse, the Al-Khair foundation said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to AP’s request for comment on Friday’s strike.
The warehouse was located in Muwasi, an area on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast that is part of a “humanitarian safe zone” where Israeli has told Palestinians to take refuge.
After a two-week Israeli offensive in northern Gaza, dozens of bodies were collected throughout Gaza City’s Tel Al-Hawa neighborhood and brought to Al-Ahli Hospital on Friday morning. Civil defense workers said they were still recovering dead and wounded from destroyed streets and buildings.
Israel launched the war in Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in which militants stormed into southern Israel, killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and abducted about 250. Since then, Israeli ground offensives and bombardments have killed more than 38,300 people in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. It does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its count.
Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are crammed into squalid tent camps in central and southern Gaza. Israeli restrictions, fighting and the breakdown of law and order have limited humanitarian aid efforts, causing widespread hunger and sparking fears of famine. The top United Nations court has ordered Israel to take steps to protect Palestinians as it examines genocide allegations against Israeli leaders. Israel denies the charge.


More than half a million children in Gaza missing out on vital education amid Israeli-Hamas war: UNRWA

Updated 12 July 2024
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More than half a million children in Gaza missing out on vital education amid Israeli-Hamas war: UNRWA

  • 600,000 children had been unable to attend school this year because of the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war

LONDON: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees warned on Friday that the Gaza Strip was on the verge of “losing an entire generation of children” due to the ongoing Israeli aggression, now in its 10th month.

The organization said that more than 600,000 children had been unable to attend school this year because of the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war raging in the enclave. 

UNRWA added it would be extremely difficult for children to recover the education they have missed out on since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on southern Israel and the subsequent Israeli retaliation.

It also noted that two-thirds of its schools in Gaza had been destroyed, while the rest had been converted into shelters for hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians.

Statistics from the Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health assert that approximately 16,000 children have died in Israeli bombings or from illness, famine and malnutrition since the start of the Israeli aggression. 

A letter penned by three experts published in the Lancet medical journal earlier this week said the number of children who might have died in the conflict could be much higher, with thousands of children believed to be trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings.


UN court to give view on consequences of Israel occupation

Updated 12 July 2024
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UN court to give view on consequences of Israel occupation

  • Any opinion delivered by the International Court of Justice would be non-binding, but it will come amid mounting international legal pressure on Israel
  • "A public sitting will take place at the Peace Palace in The Hague ... during which Judge Nawaf Salam... will read out the Advisory Opinion," the ICJ said

THE HAGUE: The UN's top court will next week hand down its view on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967, a case in which some 52 countries made submissions.
Any opinion delivered by the International Court of Justice would be non-binding, but it will come amid mounting international legal pressure on Israel over the war in Gaza sparked by the brutal October 7 Hamas attacks.
"A public sitting will take place at the Peace Palace in The Hague (on July 19) ... during which Judge Nawaf Salam... will read out the Advisory Opinion," the ICJ said on Friday.
The ICJ held a week-long session in February to hear submissions from countries following a request from the United Nations late last year.
The UN has asked the ICJ to hand down an "advisory opinion" on the "legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem".
Most speakers during the hearings have demanded that Israel end its occupation, which came after a six-day Arab-Israeli war in 1967.
But the United States said Israel should not be legally obliged to withdraw without taking its "very real security needs" into account.
Speakers also warned a prolonged occupation posed an "extreme danger" to stability in the Middle East and beyond.
Israel did not take part in the oral hearings.
It submitted a written contribution, in which it described the questions the court had been asked as "prejudicial" and "tendentious".
The case before the court is separate from one brought by South Africa against Israel for alleged genocide during its current offensive in Gaza.
South Africa has gone to the ICJ several times arguing that the dire humanitarian situation means the court should issue further fresh emergency measures.
In an initial ruling on January 26, the ICJ ordered Israel to do everything it could to prevent acts of genocide during its military operation in Gaza.
It also called for the unconditional release of hostages taken by Palestinian militant group Hamas during its October 7 assault that sparked the war.