UN experts warn time is running out to prevent genocide in Gaza

UN experts warn time is running out to prevent genocide in Gaza
Palestinians gather at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Bureij in the central Gaza Strip, on November 2, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 03 November 2023
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UN experts warn time is running out to prevent genocide in Gaza

UN experts warn time is running out to prevent genocide in Gaza
  • Experts highlight 'decades of hardship and deprivation' endured by Gazans, urge Israel and allies to agree to ceasefire
  • They also call for immediate release of all civilians who have been held captive since Oct 7 attacks by Hamas militants

NEW YORK CITY: A group of independent UN experts issued an urgent warning on Thursday in which they sounded the alarm that time is rapidly running out to prevent potential genocide and a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

They painted a grim picture of the situation in the besieged Gaza Strip and expressed deep frustration with Israel’s refusal to halt its plans “to decimate” the territory.

“We remain convinced that the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide,” the experts said. “The time for action is now. Israel’s allies also bear responsibility and must act immediately to prevent its disastrous course of action.”

The group of seven experts included the UN’s special rapporteurs on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; the right to food; the human rights of internally displaced people; and contemporary forms of racism; as well as Francesca Albanese, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967.

Expressing “deepening horror” about the Israeli airstrikes that have relentlessly targeted the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza since Tuesday night, killing and injuring hundreds of residents, they described the attacks as “a brazen breach of international law.”

They added: “The Israeli airstrike on a residential complex in the Jabalia refugee camp is a brazen violation of international law — and a war crime. Attacking a camp sheltering civilians, including women and children, is a complete breach of the rules of proportionality and distinction between combatants and civilians.”

The experts welcomed a recent UN General Assembly resolution, passed with the support of an overwhelming majority of member states on Oct. 27, that emphasized the need to protect civilians and adhere to legal and humanitarian obligations. However, they stressed that the situation requires more than only a resolution.

“We received the resolution with hope but the need for action is now,” they said, warning that all the signs point toward a rapidly approaching critical breaking point in Gaza.

They highlighted disturbing reports of people being forced to resort to desperate measures to survive, such as desperately grabbing flour and other essentials from a UN warehouse, children forced to drink sea water because of a lack of clean water, and surgery being performed on patients, including children, without anesthesia. In addition, they said, many elderly residents of Gaza and people with disabilities have been displaced from their homes, which are now rubble, and forced to live in tents.

The situation in Gaza has reached a catastrophic tipping point, the experts warned, in which a dire need for food, water, medicine, fuel and other essential supplies is compounded by a looming health crisis, given the prolonged lack of fuel and damage to water infrastructure as a result of the constant shelling for the past three weeks, which has left the population of Gaza with little or no access to safe drinking water.

About 1.4 million people in Gaza are now internally displaced, with about 630,000 seeking refuge in 150 UN Relief and Works Agency emergency shelters. The agency has reported that 70 UN workers have died so far as a result of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

The UN experts also called for the immediate release of all civilians held captive since the attack by Hamas militants on Israeli towns on Oct. 7.

“All parties must comply with their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law,” they said.

“We demand a humanitarian ceasefire to ensure that aid reaches those who need it the most. A ceasefire also means channels of communication can be opened to ensure the release of hostages.”

While expressing grave concern for the safety of UN and other humanitarian workers, as well as the hospitals and schools that are providing refuge and lifesaving medical services to the people of Gaza, the experts also raised an alarm about the safety of journalists and other media workers, and their families. They noted that internet and communication connections have been disrupted, hampering essential reporting of developments in Gaza.

“We want to remind all parties that humanitarian and medical personnel and facilities are protected under international law,” they said. “States have an obligation to ensure their safety and protection during times of war.

“As the secretary-general (of the UN, Antonio Guterres,) has repeatedly reiterated, Israel and Palestinian armed groups must bear in mind that even wars have rules.”

The experts concluded by reiterating the immense hardship and deprivation the Palestinian population of Gaza is enduring, and issuing a powerful call for Israel and its allies to agree to an immediate ceasefire, warning that swift action is imperative.

“The Palestinian people in Gaza, particularly women, children, persons with disabilities, youth, and older persons, have endured decades of hardship and deprivation,” they said.

“We are running out of time.”

Special rapporteurs are part of what is known as the special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. They are independent experts who work on a voluntary basis, are not members of UN staff and are not paid for their work.


Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting

Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting
Updated 25 June 2024
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Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting

Few civilians left in Rafah ‘trapped’ by the fighting
  • There is “almost no one left” in Rafah, Abu Taha said, barring a handful of people who refused to leave their homes or who also came back later
  • The distress of the 2.4 million people in the narrow strip of land that is Gaza, already impoverished before the war, has increased with the fighting

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories: Rafah city center in Gaza lies deserted after most residents fled weeks of fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups led by Hamas that punctuated daily life there.
Those who are left in the city feel trapped.
Israeli officials have described Rafah as the last Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip.
In early May troops entered the city in the south of the Palestinian territory, bombarding areas near the border with Egypt and forcing tens of thousands of residents to leave.
“There is no more water or food. We are totally trapped,” said Haitham Abu Taha.
He is one of the few Palestinians who returned to Rafah with his family after Israel’s army recently announced a daily pause on a southern route.
“It was better than staying in tents or with relatives because we were separated from each other,” he remembered thinking, before returning to find that soldiers “had not really withdrawn.”
There is “almost no one left” in Rafah, Abu Taha said, barring a handful of people who refused to leave their homes or who also came back later.
Over the desolate city’s sea of rubble, Palestinians say Israeli drones fly precise maneuvers at low altitudes.
Almost silent, they offer a detailed view of the terrain and have been used, Palestinians say, to carry out precision strikes since the Israel-Hamas war began more than eight months ago.

Abu Taha, 30, spoke of the “danger of quadcopter drones which mercilessly target anyone walking” in the streets.
“Many people were killed” by the quadcopters, 22-year-old Ismail Abu Shaar told AFP, claiming to have stayed at home to “protect” the area.
“The artillery, the shooting and the clashes” never stop, he said.
The Israeli military said on Monday it was “continuing intelligence-based targeted operations” in and around Rafah, adding that it had found “large amounts of weapons.”
“We are clearly approaching the point where we can say we have dismantled the Rafah Brigade (of Hamas), that it is defeated not in the sense that there are no more terrorists, but in the sense that it can no longer function as a fighting unit,” army chief Herzi Halevi said in a statement after touring Rafah late on Sunday.
However, Palestinian armed groups, notably Hamas armed wing the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, say they regularly operate in the area.
William Schomburg, representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Rafah, told journalists on Saturday that the city is now a “ghost town.”
“We see very few people, very significant destruction,” he said.
The distress of the 2.4 million people in the narrow strip of land that is Gaza, already impoverished before the war, has increased with the fighting.

International organizations have said for months they face extreme difficulties in providing humanitarian aid to civilians, while the Israeli authorities say they have allowed the aid in but it has not been collected for distribution.
Plumes of smoke rise regularly above Rafah, to which Egypt partly controlled access until the war changed the situation on the ground.
Before the Israeli ground offensive on the city began in early May, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians took refuge there, displaced from across the territory as the fighting intensified.
Many have left homes where they had lived for years or apartments they had rented at high prices after the war began — or tents erected in haste as the war tightened its grip on the city.
At the end of May, AFP correspondents saw hundreds of Palestinians fleeing Tal Al-Sultan, a district of Rafah which had just been hit by an Israeli strike that left 45 dead, according to the local authorities in the Hamas-run territory.
After strikes last week killed dozens, the east and center of the city are becoming even more empty as the people flee.
On flatbed vans and donkey carts, families piled patched-up solar panels, foam mattresses covered with flowers, wooden planks and plastic pipes.
A young boy pushed sheets of metal on an office chair.
Many say they simply do not have the means to embark on a new move, as the war closes in on the few who remain behind with them.
“We’re afraid to move because we fear being killed,” said Abu Taha.
 

 


US urges Israel’s defense minister to avoid Lebanon escalation

US urges Israel’s defense minister to avoid Lebanon escalation
Updated 25 June 2024
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US urges Israel’s defense minister to avoid Lebanon escalation

US urges Israel’s defense minister to avoid Lebanon escalation

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Israel during a Monday meeting with its defense minister to avoid further escalation in Lebanon as they discussed efforts to reach a deal to free hostages in Gaza.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was on a visit to Washington seeking to reaffirm the value of ties with Israel’s top ally, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly chastised the United States for what he said was a delay in weapons deliveries.
In a two-hour meeting with Gallant at the State Department, Blinken discussed indirect diplomacy between Israel and Hamas on an agreement that “secures the release of all hostages and alleviates the suffering of the Palestinian people,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
Blinken also “underscored the importance of avoiding further escalation of the conflict and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows both Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes,” Miller said in a statement.
Tensions have been rising with growing exchanges of fire between Israel and Lebanon’s Iranian-backed militant movement Hezbollah.
Netanyahu has said Israeli forces are winding up the most intense part of the Gaza war and will redeploy to the northern border, although he cast the move as defensive.
Gallant also met CIA chief Bill Burns, the key US pointman in negotiations to free hostages from Hamas.
“I would like to emphasize that it is Israel’s primary commitment to return the hostages, with no exception, to their families and homes,” Gallant said before starting his meetings.
“We will continue to make every possible effort to bring them home,” he said.
The minister made no further comment as he left the meeting with Blinken, as a few dozen protesters outside the State Department chanted to call him a “war criminal.”

President Joe Biden on May 31 laid out a plan for a ceasefire in Gaza and release of hostages.
Hamas, which launched the conflict with its October 7 attack on Israel, has come back with its own demands, and the United States hopes the gaps can be bridged.
Netanyahu, who has faced major protests calling for him to accept the deal, in recent days has annoyed the Biden administration by accusing Washington of cutting back arms and ammunition deliveries.
Gallant took a different tack, saying: “The alliance between Israel and the United States, led by the US over many years, is extremely important.”
Other than Israel’s own military, “our ties with the US are the most important element for our future from a security perspective,” he said.
Biden, who has faced criticism from parts of his own base over his support for Israel, held back a shipment that included heavy 2,000-pound bombs.
Netanyahu — who has close relations with Biden’s rivals in the Republican Party — told a cabinet meeting on Sunday that there was a “dramatic drop in the supply” of US weapons around four months ago.
Asked about his latest remark, Miller told reporters, “I don’t understand what that comment meant at all.”
“We have paused one shipment of high-payload munitions. That shipment remains on pause,” Miller told reporters.
“There are other weapons that we continue to provide Israel, as we have done going back years and years, because we are committed to Israel’s security. There has been no change in that,” Miller said.
Miller said the United States would also press Israel to work on longer-term arrangements after the end of the fighting.
“We don’t want to see in Rafah what we’ve seen in Gaza City and what we’ve seen in Khan Yunis, which is the end of major combat operations and then the beginning of Hamas reasserting control,” he said, referring to two other major cities targeted by Israel earlier in the war.
 

 


Israeli military confirms death of hostage held in Gaza

Israeli military confirms death of hostage held in Gaza
Updated 25 June 2024
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Israeli military confirms death of hostage held in Gaza

Israeli military confirms death of hostage held in Gaza
  • Israeli authorities had previously confirmed Alatrash, a sergeant major in the Israeli military’s Bedouin Trackers Unit, was taken hostage on October 7

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military on Monday confirmed the death of a soldier held hostage by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip for nearly nine months since Hamas’s October 7 attack.
In a separate statement the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said that Mohammad Alatrash was killed during the October attack on southern Israel and his body taken captive by Hamas militants.
Israeli authorities had previously confirmed Alatrash, a sergeant major in the Israeli military’s Bedouin Trackers Unit, was taken hostage on October 7.
Alatrash, 39, is survived by two wives and 13 children, the forum said in a statement.
“The Families Forum will continue to support and stand by the family during this difficult time and until his remains are returned to Israel,” it said.
The Hostages and Missing Families Forum meanwhile released a video showing the kidnapping of three other hostages on the day of the Hamas attack.
It showed Hersh Goldberg-Polin, Or Levy and Eliya Cohen being seized, loaded in a pick-up truck and driven away to Gaza by armed militants, some chanting “Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest).”
Goldberg-Polin is seen drenched in blood after part of his left arm was blown off in the attack.
In April, he appeared in a proof-of-life video released by Hamas in which he said the captives were living “in hell.” His left arm had been amputated below the elbow.
“The shocking abduction video of Hersh, Or and Eliya breaks all of our hearts and re-emphasizes the brutality of the enemy whom we have sworn to eliminate,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement after the release of the latest footage.
“We will not end the war until we return all ... of our loved ones home.”
Alatrash’s death raises the toll from Hamas’s attack to 1,195, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Palestinian militants also took 251 people hostage in the attack, 116 of whom remain captive in the Gaza Strip, according to Israel.
Of those, the military says 42 are dead, including at least nine soldiers.
Israel’s retaliatory invasion and bombardment of the Gaza Strip has resulted in the deaths of at least 37,626 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


Jordan police say they detonated explosives hidden in a warehouse in capital

Jordan police say they detonated explosives hidden in a warehouse in capital
Updated 25 June 2024
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Jordan police say they detonated explosives hidden in a warehouse in capital

Jordan police say they detonated explosives hidden in a warehouse in capital
  • Security officials said the incidents were terror-related based on the quantities of explosives found

AMMAN: Jordanian security forces said they uncovered and detonated explosives hidden in a commercial warehouse in an industrial area southeast of the capital Amman on Monday that security sources say were part of an Iran-linked plot to destabilize a key US ally.
Witnesses earlier said security forces had sealed the Abu Alanda area in a wide scale security operation two days after authorities announced they had detonated explosives uncovered in another location in the capital. The authorities said the explosives found on Monday were hidden by the same group of suspects who stored the explosives uncovered on Saturday in a crowded residential area close to a military airport used by US army planes. The authorities, who have not disclosed who was behind the storing of munitions or whether arrests have been made, say they will reveal details once the investigations are completed.
Over the past year, Jordan has said it has foiled many attempts to smuggle weapons by infiltrators linked to pro-Iranian militias in Syria, who it says have crossed its borders with rocket launchers and explosives, adding that some of the weapons managed to get through undetected.
Iran has denied being behind such attempts.
Security sources say some of the arms are bound for the neighboring Israeli-occupied West Bank, adding that they have arrested several Jordanians linked to Palestinian militants.
Security officials said the incidents were terror-related based on the quantities of explosives found. They said it is linked to Iran’s clandestine efforts to recruit agents to undertake sabotage acts within the kingdom to destabilize a key ally of Washington in the region.
Jordan has over 3,500 American troops stationed in several bases and, since the war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza erupted in October, it has been increasingly targeted by Iranian-backed groups operating in neighboring Syria and Iraq.


1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says

1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says
Updated 25 June 2024
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1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says

1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says
  • More than 495,000 people in region facing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity

LONDON: More than 495,000 people in Gaza, representing one in five of the enclave’s population, are now facing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity, characterized by extreme lack of food, starvation, and exhaustion, according to a forthcoming UN report.

The latest “Special Snapshot” of Gaza from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification will be published on Tuesday, The Guardian reported.

The UN report will also reveal that more than half of Gaza’s households have had to sell or exchange clothes to buy food, as the risk of famine remains high across the territory following recent violence.

Israeli authorities have tight control over entry into Gaza, and movements require military permission. Rubble has damaged the roads, fuel is in short supply, and power and communication networks are barely functional.

At the start of the war Israel imposed a complete siege on Gaza, which has only been gradually eased under US pressure. The war has significantly reduced Gaza’s ability to produce its own food.

The IPC noted that food deliveries and nutritional services to northern Gaza increased significantly in March and April, preventing a famine and improving conditions in the territory’s south. However, the situation has deteriorated again as a result of renewed hostilities, and the risk of famine remains in the Gaza Strip as long as the conflict continues and humanitarian access is limited, according to a draft report obtained by The Guardian.

More than half of households reported frequently running out of food at home, and more than 20 percent go entire days and nights without eating, The Guardian reported. The most recent trajectory is negative and highly unstable. If this trend continues, the improvements seen in April may be quickly reversed.

UN agencies and aid organizations report difficulties in reaching Kerem Shalom border crossing due to ongoing fighting, Israeli restrictions, coordination issues with the army, and the breakdown of law and order.

Although the IPC has not officially declared a famine — which requires a stringent set of conditions — the situation in Gaza is dire. Stage 5 hunger, which affects 22 percent of Gaza’s population, is comparable to famine conditions.

A formal famine declaration requires 20 percent of households to have an extreme lack of food, 30 percent of children to suffer from acute malnutrition, and at least two adults or four children per 10,000 people to die each day.

Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has said that Israel’s restrictions on humanitarian aid into Gaza may constitute the war crime of deliberate starvation. The World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization have warned that by the middle of July, more than 1 million people could be dead or starving.

A joint statement from Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and the European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said: “The crisis in Gaza has reached another breaking point … The delivery of any meaningful humanitarian assistance inside Gaza has become almost impossible and the very fabric of civil society is unraveling.”

Ahead of the release of the IPC’s report on Gaza, Kate Phillips-Barrasso, vice president of global policy and advocacy at Mercy Corps, said: “People are enduring subhuman conditions, resorting to desperate measures like boiling weeds, eating animal feed, and exchanging clothes for money to stave off hunger and keep their children alive.

“The humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly, and the specter of famine continues to hang over Gaza … Humanitarian aid is limited … The international community must apply relentless pressure to achieve a ceasefire and ensure sustained humanitarian access now. The population cannot endure these hardships any longer.”