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    HomeHuman RightsGaza: Rafah ground assault would increase risk of atrocity crimes

    Gaza: Rafah ground assault would increase risk of atrocity crimes

    Spokesperson for Volker Türk in Geneva, Jeremy Laurence, told journalists that an already catastrophic situation could “slide deeper into the abyss” in the coming days if Israeli forces make their move on the southern border city, carrying through with their threat to invade, unless Hamas militants hand over remaining hostages by the start of Ramadan.

    The holy month for Muslims worldwide begins this weekend, a “period that is meant to honour peace and tolerance”, said Mr. Laurence.

    Gazans who have nowhere else to run to, are living in “deplorable sub-human conditions” in Rafah, he added: “Any ground assault on Rafah would incur massive loss of life and would heighten the risk of further atrocity crimes.

    “This must not be allowed to happen. We also fear that further Israeli restrictions on access by Palestinians to East Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan could further inflame tensions.”

    The UN human rights chief repeated that “there must be an immediate end to this conflict and that the killing and destruction must stop.”

    Release hostages unconditionally

    The hostages seized by Hamas and other militants during the 7 October terror attacks have endured 150 days of suffering and torment, Mr. Türk added, calling for their unconditional release and return.

    In continuing its offensive, Israel, as the occupying power, “must – we repeat – fully comply with its obligations under international humanitarian law to provide the increasingly desperate civilian population of Gaza with the necessary food and medical supplies, or, if it is unable to do so, ensure that the population has access to critical life-saving humanitarian assistance commensurate with their needs”, Mr. Laurence stressed.

    Furthermore, border crossings and corridors must be fully opened and steps must be taken to ensure the free and secure movement of aid convoys to civilians wherever they are located.

    Settlement expansion violates international law

    Mr. Türk on Friday also deplored Israel’s latest decision to greenlight the construction of a further 3,476 homes in the occupied West Bank, saying “the drastic acceleration in settlement building is exacerbating long-standing patterns of oppression, violence and discrimination against Palestinians”

    “Reports this week that Israel plans to build a further 3,476 settler homes in Maale Adumim, Efrat and Kedar fly in the face of international law,” he added.

    In a report to the Human Rights Council, Türk said that the establishment and continuing expansion of settlements amounts to Israeli transferring its own civilian population into the territories that it occupies – a war crime under international law.

    The report covering the period from 1 November 2022 to 31 October last year details that around 24,300 housing units within existing Israeli settlements in the West Bank were advanced, the highest on record since monitoring began in 2017. This included approximately 9,670 units in East Jerusalem.

    The report finds that the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Government appear aligned, to an unprecedented extent, with the goals of the Israeli settler movement to expand long-term control over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and to steadily integrate this occupied territory into the State of Israel.

    “They also run counter to the views of a broad range of States laid out during hearings just two weeks ago at the International Court of Justice (ICJ),” the High Commissioner said, referring to the hearings tabled by South Africa examining the legal consequences of Israeli policies and practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

    Over 600 settler attacks

    The West Bank is already in crisis”, Mr. Türk said. Yet, settler violence and settlement-related violations have reached shocking new levels, and risk eliminating any practical possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian State”.

    Latest UN figures show that, since 7 October, there have been 603 settler attacks against Palestinians. A total of 1,222 Palestinians from 19 herding communities have been displaced as a direct result of settler violence.

    Since 7 October, UN rights office OHCHR has documented nine Palestinians killed by settlers using firearms. A further 396 have been killed by Israeli security forces, and two killed by either Israeli security forces or settlers.

    Since 7 October, 592 people, including 282 children, have been displaced in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, after their homes were demolished due to the lack of Israeli-issued building permits, which are almost impossible to obtain, OHCHR said.

    Gaza casualties mount

    According to the latest situation update from the UN humanitarian affairs office (OCHA) between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, 78 Palestinians were killed, and 104 Palestinians were injured – based on figures from the Gaza health ministry. This brings the total fatalities in Gaza to at least 30,878, with 72,402 Palestinians injured.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) said that an estimated 8,000 patients need to be medically evacuated from Gaza, including around 6,000 trauma-related cases. 

    More to come on this developing story…

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