At Rafah crossing, Türk says both Israel and Hamas have committed war crimes

Human Rights

Volker Türk highlighted the dichotomy at the border crossing, describing it as a “lifeline” for the 2.3 million residents of Gaza over the past month, although “unjustly, outrageously thin.”

But it is also “the gates to a living nightmare”, he continued, as people in Gaza “have been suffocating, under persistent bombardment, mourning their families, struggling for water, for food, for electricity and fuel.”

Unprecedented danger

The human rights chief is the latest senior UN official to travel to the region since Hamas militants attacked Israel on 7 October, killing 1,400 people and kidnapping more than 240 others who were taken inside the enclave.

In response, Israel has been repeatedly bombarding the Gaza Strip, in addition to imposing a total siege on the enclave and launching a ground invasion, ordering civilians in the north to move south.

Mr. Türk said the atrocities perpetrated by Palestinian armed groups, and the continued holding of hostages, were heinous and constitute war crimes.

“The collective punishment by Israel of Palestinian civilians is also a war crime, as is unlawful forcible evacuation of civilians,” he added.

Warning that “we have fallen off a precipice,” he stated that “even in the context of a 56-year occupation, the situation is the most dangerous we have faced for people in Gaza, in Israel, in the West Bank but also regionally.”  

Mr. Türk issued an urgent appeal for the parties to agree to a ceasefire now so that three “critical human rights imperatives” can be met.

He called for sufficient aid deliveries into Gaza, the release of all hostages and enabling “the political space to finally implement a durable end to the occupation, based on the rights of both Palestinians and Israelis to self-determination.”

Distinguish between Hamas and Palestinians: Guterres

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Wednesday that the number of civilians killed in Gaza shows that something is “clearly wrong” with Israel’s operations against Hamas.

“There are violations by Hamas when they have human shields. But when one looks at the number of civilians that were killed with the military operations, there is something that is clearly wrong,” he told the Reuters NEXT conference in New York, hosted by the news agency.

“It is also important to make Israel understand that it is against the interests of Israel to see every day the terrible image of the dramatic humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people,” he said. “That doesn’t help Israel in relation to the global public opinion.”

While he strongly condemned the Hamas attack on Israel, Mr. Guterres said “we need to distinguish – Hamas is one thing, the Palestinian people (are) another”, adding “if we don’t make that distinction, I think it’s humanity itself that will lose its meaning.” 

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