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    UN’s Türk urges probe into alleged sexual violence during Hamas terror attacks

    The High Commissioner also rejected allegations of double standards regarding the UN’s position on the crisis in Gaza, noting that he had been made aware of allegations of sexual violence during the Hamas attack on communities in southern Israel. 

    It was “painfully clear” that the “atrocious” attacks should be fully investigated independently “because that is what we owe the victims”, he said, while also decrying the “catastrophic” scenes playing out in Gaza since Israeli Defense Forces began their retaliation for the Hamas-led terror attack on 7 October.

    Independent investigation

    Mr. Türk also noted that similarly grave human rights probes such as the one into the alleged mass killing of civilians in Bucha, Ukraine, by Russian forces in April 2022, took several months to launch.

    We owe it to the victims that there are serious investigations into the allegations and that justice is served,” he said, adding that his Office had issued a request to Israel in the second week of October to allow a team of UN rights investigators access to carry out their work.

    “I’ve repeated this call and I hope it will be heeded,” he added.

    UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk briefs journalists at a press conference ahead of Human Rights Day.

    Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Mr. Türk repeated previous calls for the fighting to stop and for countries with influence on the belligerents to protect civilians as a priority, in line with the laws of war.

    Those comments came after his Office stated that “the pattern of attacks that target or impact on civilian infrastructure raises serious concerns about Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law and significantly raises the risk of atrocity crimes”.

    “As an immediate step, I call for an urgent cessation of hostilities,” he said. “All parties are aware of what is really needed to achieve peace and security for Palestinian and Israeli peoples; violence and vengeance can only result in more hatred and radicalisation. The only way to end the accumulative sufferings is ending the occupation and achieving the two-State solution.”

    Mr. Türk also reiterated his grave concerns about “dehumanizing and inciteful statements” made by serving and former high-level Israeli officials, as well as Hamas figures. “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 were made, as incitement to atrocity crimes.” 

    Airstrikes and rocket fire

    I think we’ve hit rock bottom and it is a turning point in this war,” said Juliette Touma, a spokesperson for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, during a media interview posted online on Wednesday. “It’s getting worse by the minute; we’re getting constant SOS calls from colleagues and friends.”

    Latest information from UN aid coordination office OCHA indicates “significantly intensified” Israeli bombardments from air, land and sea across Gaza since Monday afternoon. 

    Rocket firing by Palestinian armed groups into Israel has also increased, OCHA reported in its emergency update.

    There has been “intense fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups”, in particular in the eastern Gaza city, at the reportedly encircled Jabalia refugee camp in the north, and in areas east of Khan Younis to the south, where tens of thousands of people have sought the relative safety of UNRWA shelters that are already very overcrowded.

    “We’ve had 60,000 only (arriving) in the past few hours,” Ms. Touma said. 

    According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, since the resumption of hostilities on 1 December and until 5 December, at least 1,207 Palestinians have been killed, of whom 70 per cent were children and women.

    Limited aid distribution

    The OCHA update noted that dozens of aid trucks carrying humanitarian supplies and fuel entered from Egypt into Gaza on Tuesday, but that for the third consecutive day, Gaza’s Rafah governorate was the only one where limited aid distributions happened.

    In adjacent Khan Younis governorate, “aid distribution largely stopped due to the intensity of hostilities”, the UN aid office said, while Gaza’s Middle Area was “largely disconnected from the south”, following restrictions placed on movement along the main roads by Israeli forces.

    Access to areas north of Wadi Gaza came to a halt on 1 December with the resumption of hostilities last Friday which ended the week-long humanitarian pause, OCHA added.

    Among the deadliest recent incidents reported – some of which hit residential buildings – the UN office said that on 4 December “at about 2.40pm, seven people, including two girls, were reportedly killed in Deir al -Balah. On 4 December, at about 3.40pm, seven people were reportedly killed in Khan Yunis; on 5 December, at about 7.30am, 15 people were reportedly killed in Jabalia; on 5 December, at about 8.50am, 10 people were reportedly killed in the new camp in Nuseirat, Middle Area.”

    ‘Almost impossible’ to deliver

    In addition to the looming health crisis in the enclave that is the result of overcrowding and deeply unsanitary conditions, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) also warned on Tuesday that the resumption of hostilities in Gaza “will only intensify the catastrophic hunger crisis” that already threatens to overwhelm civilians.

    The WFP statement explained that “the renewed fighting makes the distribution of aid almost impossible and endangers the lives of humanitarian workers”.

    At least 16,248 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza during the latest escalation, about 70 per cent were women and children, OCHA said, citing the Gazan health authority. Many more are missing, presumably under the rubble, awaiting rescue or recovery, it noted.

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