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‘Carnage’ in Gaza must end, UN rights chief tells Human Rights Council
Schools in Gaza have been directly hit or damaged since the beginning of the war. Photo Courtesy: UNRWA

‘Carnage’ in Gaza must end, UN rights chief tells Human Rights Council

| @indiablooms | 01 Mar 2024, 02:44 pm

The “carnage” in Gaza has left more than 30,000 dead and must end immediately, UN rights chief Volker Türk told the Human Rights Council on Thursday, after almost five months of constant Israeli bombardment and mass displacement in the enclave, prompted by Hamas-led attacks.

“The war in Gaza must end,” Türk said, insisting that it was “well past time” for peace, accountability and investigations into the “clear” violations of international humanitarian law and possible war crimes by both sides.

Horrors of war

“There appear to be no bounds to – no words to capture – the horrors that are unfolding before our eyes in Gaza,” said High Commissioner Türk, as he presented a scheduled report from his Office, OHCHR, on the desperate situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to the Council.

Underscoring the “unprecedented level of killing and maiming” of civilians in the enclave, Mr. Türk noted that at least 17,000 children have now been orphaned or separated from their families.

And after reiterating his condemnation for the “shocking…totally unjustifiable” Hamas-led attacks on 7 and 8 October, along with the “appalling and entirely wrong” taking of hostages, Türk noted that at least three in four Gazans had been displaced by the war, amid the “systematic demolition of entire neighbourhoods” that had rendered Gaza largely uninhabitable.

Lasting impact

Addressing the Council, which is the UN’s top rights forum under the auspices of the UN General Assembly, Mr. Türk said that thousands of tonnes of munitions had been dropped by Israel on communities across Gaza since 7 October.

“These weapons send out (a) massive blast wave of high pressure that may rupture internal organs, as well as fragmentation projectiles, and heat so intense that it causes deep burns – and they have been used in densely populated residential neighbourhoods,” he said. “In Egypt's Arish hospital, last November, I saw children whose flesh had been seared. I will never forget this.”

Civilians in crosshairs

The High Commissioner also noted that likely “indiscriminate or disproportionate targeting” by Israel had left tens of thousands of Gazans missing, “presumed buried under the rubble of their homes”, before condemning the firing of “indiscriminate projectiles” by Palestinian armed groups “across southern Israel and as far as Tel Aviv”.

Supporting role

Among the forum’s 47 Member States, there was almost universal support for the UN rights chief’s condemnation of the attacks on Israeli communities by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups, his call for the release of Israeli hostages still held in the enclave, the need for an immediate ceasefire, accountability for violations of the laws of war from both sides and the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian State.

Israel stance

For Israel, Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva Meirav Eilon Shahar decried the attacks by Hamas “terrorists” and repeated unsubstantiated allegations of complicity between the UN and the armed group.

Sitting with two freed hostages – Aviva Siegel and Raz Ben Ami – who clasped hands to support one another during the debate, the Israeli delegate also insisted on her country’s right to defend itself in line with international humanitarian law.

“Israel is fighting in a battlefield that Hamas has created in Gaza,” she said. “One in which terrorists hide behind and within the civilian population. One that the UN has witnessed being built around and below them for years and chose to ignore.”

“Israel has been told time and time again that the terrorists who have diverted aid, built terror tunnels, brutally murdered innocent civilians, raped, beheaded, burnt families alive cannot be touched because they hide among the civilian population. Yet, we have no choice. We must go after Hamas, or they will continue to come after us.”

Show of hands

Spontaneous applause briefly interrupted proceedings in response to comments from the Palestinian representative, Ibrahim Khraishi, after he issued strong condemnation of the Hamas-led massacres in Israel that sparked the latest spike in the conflict.

“We do so firmly,” he said, "but nobody is really condemning the fact that women, children and the elderly are being killed.”

Some 12,000 children and 8,000 women were among the victims, Mr. Khraishi insisted, as he cited unconfirmed reports on Thursday morning that dozens of Palestinians had been killed in an incident involving Israeli forces in Gaza City while they waited for aid trucks to arrive.

“Are these combatants, are they human shields?” he asked, before appealing to the international community to prevent “a new slaughter” in Rafah, in reference to an impending all-out offensive by Israeli forces in the absence of a ceasefire agreement.

UN rights chief Türk earlier cautioned against an Israeli ground assault on Rafah where 1.5 million people are now sheltering “despite continuing bombardment”.

An Israeli offensive “would incur potentially massive loss of life, additional risk of atrocity crimes, new displacement to another unsafe location distribution and sign a death warrant for any hope of effective humanitarian aid,” the High Commissioner said. “I fail to see how such an operation could be consistent with the binding provisional measures issued by the International Court of Justice.”

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