GENEVA, ISTANBUL: UN human rights chief Volker Turk warned on Wednesday there was a heightened risk of “atrocity crimes” in Gaza, urging parties involved to refrain from committing such violations.
According to the UN, the term “atrocity crimes” refers to the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes as defined by international treaties.
“My humanitarian colleagues have described the situation as apocalyptic. In these circumstances, there is a heightened risk of atrocity crimes,” Turk said in Geneva.
“Measures need to be taken urgently, both by the parties concerned and by all states, particularly those with influence, to prevent any such crimes,” he said.
“Civilians in Gaza continue to be relentlessly bombarded by Israel and collectively punished — suffering death, siege, destruction and deprivation of the most essential human needs such as food, water, lifesaving medical supplies and other essentials on a massive scale,” he told a press conference.
“Palestinians in Gaza are living in utter, deepening horror.”
He said 1.9 million of the Palestinian enclave’s 2.2 million people had been displaced and were being pushed into “ever-diminishing and extremely overcrowded places in southern Gaza, in unsanitary and unhealthy conditions.
“Humanitarian aid is again virtually cut off as fears of widespread disease and hunger spread.”
Israeli troops and Hamas militants were locked in fierce ground combat in Gaza on Wednesday after the Israelis reached the southern city of Khan Younis.
Turk said that the only way to end the conflict was to end the Israeli occupation and opt for a two-state solution. “I think one thing is very clear: It cannot go back to what it was,” he said.
Turk’s office requested access to Israel to collect information on the Oct. 7 attacks, including acts of sexual violence, but had not received a response from Israel.
Hamas denies its fighters committed such abuses.
Turk also noted what he called “dehumanizing and inciteful statements” made by high-level Israeli officials and figures from Hamas, which he said could potentially be viewed as incitement to committing atrocity crimes.
“History has shown us where this kind of language can lead,” he said. “This is not just unacceptable, but a competent court may view such statements in the circumstances in which they are made as incitement to atrocity crimes.”
Israel declared war on Hamas after the militant group’s Oct. 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities, and saw around 240 hostages taken into Gaza.
“As an immediate step, I call for an urgent cessation of hostilities and the release of all hostages,” Turk said, adding: “you need to come back to your senses.”
Meanwhile, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkiye rejects plans to establish a post-war buffer zone in Gaza because it would be disrespectful to Palestinians. Reuters reported last week that Israel had conveyed plans for the buffer zone to several Arab states and Turkiye.
Speaking to reporters on a flight from Doha, Erdogan said Gaza’s governance and future after the war would be decided by Palestinians alone.
“I consider even the debating of this (buffer-zone) plan as disrespectful to my Palestinian siblings. For us, this is not a plan that can be debated, considered, or discussed,” Erdogan’s office quoted him as saying.
Calling for Israel to hand back territories it occupies and end settlements in those territories, he said: “Israel must remove the terrorists — which it markets to the world as settlers — from those houses and those lands, and think about how it can build a peaceful future with Palestinians.”
Erdogan said Israel had become “the West’s spoiled child,” and blamed Western support for Israel for the situation in the region.
Asked about reports that Israeli officials want to hunt down Hamas members in other countries, Erdogan said carrying out such a operation in Turkiye would have “very serious” consequences.
“In the event they carry out such a mistake, they should know that they will pay the price for this very, very heavily,” he said.
Erdogan said Turkiye and Qatar wanted to rebuild Gaza and that Turkiye was ready to act as a guarantor or host a peace conference.
Ankara has sharply criticized Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and hosts some members of Hamas. Unlike most of its NATO allies, it does not view Hamas as a terrorist group.