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UN Rights Chief distressed by Gaza’s worsening conditions amid strike

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“Deeply distressed” is how the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk has described his view of the fast-deteriorating conditions in Gaza amid intensified Israeli airstrikes in northern and central regions of the enclave.

The Israeli Defence Force has again pushed into northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp where it claims Hamas has been able to regroup – while in the south, more than 350 000 Palestinians have fled the southern city of Rafah where a ground assault appears imminent.

Israel ordered evacuations of the eastern parts of the city which has sheltered more than 1.3 million people who had fled there from other parts of Gaza that have largely been reduced to rubble.

Warnings

The streets of Rafah are empty today after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled the southern city ahead of an imminent Israeli assault and amid a deepening humanitarian crisis, with warnings from the UN and its agencies that a full-scale invasion of Rafah would be catastrophic.

Türk says, “I am deeply distressed by the fast-deteriorating conditions in Gaza as Israeli forces intensify airstrikes on Jabaliya and Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza and in parts of Central Gaza. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are fleeing Rafah after the Israeli Defence Forces ordered further evacuations from the southern city, leading afresh to massive displacement of an already profoundly traumatized population. I am also concerned by reports of indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. Since 6 May, when the IDF issued an evacuation order to Palestinians in eastern Rafah, more than 278,000 people have been displaced. This includes people with disabilities, the chronically ill, older people, the injured, pregnant women, and many others who are physically unable to move without help.”

Those Palestinians, again displaced from Rafah, have been told to move to the nearby coastal areas of Al-Mawasi and Khan Younis where the UN continues to warn that the region is not adequately equipped to cater to the basic service needs of tens of thousands of people.

While the key aid lifeline into southern Gaza, via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, has remained closed since Israel took control of the Gaza side of the border a week ago, as Israel argues that its “limited operation” in Rafah is focused on dismantling Hamas’ military infrastructure there, including tunnels – with the UN pointing to more death and displacement.

Türk says, “The latest evacuation orders affect close to a million people in Rafah. So, where should they go now? There is no safe place in Gaza! These exhausted, famished people, many of whom have been displaced many times already, have no good options. Other towns across Gaza, including Khan Younis, which is supposed to receive those who are being displaced from Rafah right now, have already been reduced to rubble, and remain under attack. These are not safe places. I have repeatedly expressed my alarm about the catastrophic impact of a possible full-scale offensive on Rafah, including the possibility of further atrocity crimes. I can see no way that the latest evacuation orders, much less a full assault, in an area with an extremely dense presence of civilians, can be reconciled with the binding requirements of international humanitarian law and with the two sets of binding provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice.”

Humanitarian law

On Friday, the US State Department sent a report to Congress in which it found it was reasonable to access that Israel had violated international humanitarian law in its military operations in Gaza but did not have sufficient evidence about specific cases due to the ongoing war conditions to recommend US arms supplies be suspended.

Former Director of the US State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Josh Paul says, “I think it is a self-contradictory report in many ways, and the problem with it is that it doesn’t come to the conclusions that are the logical follow-through from the facts that it identifies. It does say that it is reasonable to assume that US weapons have been used to commit violations of international humanitarian law. And yet it does not say that Israel has violated international humanitarian law. It does say that Israel has restricted humanitarian assistance into Gaza. And yet, it says that currently, Israel is not restricting US-funded humanitarian assistance in Gaza, which is an absurd thing to say, given that the IDF is at this moment closing and has closed for several days, the Rafah crossing point, which is the main entry point for humanitarian assistance. So, I think that in some ways the administration and the State Department are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They are trying to be seen to be leveling criticism while steering clear of the legal determinations that will bind their hands and, you know, potentially lead to restrictions on arms transfers, in particular.”

Mass graves

In a statement, the UN Security Council over the weekend expressed deep concern over reports of the discovery of mass graves in and around the Nasser and Al Shifa medical facilities in Gaza and called for investigators to be allowed unimpeded access to conduct an immediate and independent investigation to establish the facts.

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