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'Immense' Gaza death toll is crime against humanity, UN inquiry says

June 12, 2024 at 9:18 am

Palestinians continue exhuming bodies from the mass grave discovered after Israeli forces’ withdrawal from Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, Gaza on April 25, 2024 [Hani Alshaer – Anadolu Agency]

Israel committed war crimes in the early stages of its war on Gaza, a UN inquiry found today, adding that its actions also constituted crimes against humanity because of the immense civilian losses, Reuters reported.

The findings were from two parallel reports, one focusing on 7 October and another on Israel’s military response and were published by the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI).

Israel does not cooperate with the commission, which it says has an anti-Israel bias. The COI says Israel obstructs its work and prevents investigators from accessing both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel’s diplomatic mission to the U.N. in Geneva rejected the findings. “The COI has once again proven that its actions are all in the service of a narrow-led political agenda against Israel,” said Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva.

Hamas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The reports, which covers events from October conflict through to end-December, found that both sides committed war crimes including torture; murder or willful killing; outrages upon personal dignity; and inhuman or cruel treatment.

Israel also committed additional war crimes including starvation as a method of warfare, it said, saying Israel not only failed to provide essential supplies like food, water, shelter and medicine to Gazans but “acted to prevent the supply of those necessities by anyone else.”

Some of the war crimes such as murder also constituted crimes against humanity by Israel, the COI statement said, using a term reserved for the most serious international crimes knowingly committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilians.

“The immense numbers of civilian casualties in Gaza and widespread destruction of civilian objects and infrastructure were the inevitable result of a strategy undertaken with intent to cause maximum damage, disregarding the principles of distinction, proportionality and adequate precautions,” the COI statement said.

The COI’s findings are based on interviews with victims and witnesses, hundreds of submissions, satellite imagery, medical reports and verified open-source information.

Among the findings in the 59-page report on the 7 October, the commission verified four incidents of mass killings in public shelters which it said suggests resistance fighters had “standing operational instructions”. It also identified “a pattern of sexual violence” by Palestinian armed groups but could not independently verify reports of rape.

The longer 126-page Gaza report said Israel’s use of weapons such as MK84 guided bombs with a large destructive capacity in urban areas were incompatible with international humanitarian law “as they cannot adequately or accurately discriminate between the intended military targets and civilian objects”.

It also said Palestinian men and boys were subject to the crime against humanity of gender persecution, citing cases where victims were forced to strip naked in public in moves “intended to inflict severe humiliation”.

The findings will be discussed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next week.

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