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67 children among 253 Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes

18th Jun 2021
67 children among 253 Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes

Some of the 67 Palestinian children killed by Israeli airstrikes (Credit: Family/DCIP/NRC)

Nadine Osman

253 Palestinians, including 67 children, 39 women, mostly mothers, were killed and more than 1,900 injured during 11-days of Israeli airstrikes on the besieged Gaza Strip which ended on May 21 following a cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas reached with Egypt mediation. The Israeli military said an Israeli soldier as well as 12 civilians had been killed.

The Deputy Minister of Housing and Public Works in Gaza, Naji Sarhan, reported that Israeli missiles and shells damaged 16,800 residential units and buildings, including the destruction of 1,000, and damaging 18,00 units that could collapse at any moment.

Since the conflict began, Israel has bombed civilian infrastructures including a number of Gaza City’s tallest office and residential buildings, alleging that they housed elements of the Hamas military infrastructure. 12-story media Jalaa Building, where the offices of the AP, the TV network Al Jazeera and other media outlets are located, along with several floors of apartments was bombed. Israeli shelling set fire to the UN headquarters, a hospital, a school.

The Al-Quds hospital was also hit by shellfire when Israeli tanks moved further into the city The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the damage caused to the Al Quds hospital is “completely and utterly unacceptable based on every known standard of international humanitarian law”.

The Israeli missiles and shells displaced more than 120,000 Palestinians; 50,000 are in make-shift temporary relocation centres, and 70,000 residents sought shelter with relatives across the coastal region. A total of 1,200 unexploded missiles, as well as tank and artillery shells, fired by Israeli forces during its recent attacks on the blockaded Gaza Strip were destroyed on June 5.

Israel attacks may constitute war crimes

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has warned that escalating violence could amount to war crimes. “I note with great concern the escalation of violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as in and around Gaza, and the possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute,” said Chief Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, also said Israel’s attacks may constitute “war crimes” if they are shown to be disproportionate. Bachelet’s comments on May 27 came as she opened a special session of the UN Human Rights Council, called at the request of Pakistan – on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation – and Palestine. “If found disproportionate, such attacks might constitute war crimes,” Bachelet told the 47-member Geneva forum. She also urged

Hamas, which runs Gaza, to refrain from firing rockets indiscriminately on Israeli territory.
Bachelet highlighted the scale of the destruction in Gaza which has been under a 14-year-old Israeli blockade, saying that “although reportedly targeting members of armed groups and their military infrastructure, the Israeli attacks resulted in extensive civilian deaths and injuries, as well as large-scale destruction and damage to civilian objects.”

Bachelet added that her organisation has not seen any evidence that the civilian buildings bombed by the Israeli regime in Gaza Strip had been used for military purposes.

Israeli Human Rights Group B’Tselem said it “reiterates that the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague has already launched an investigation into Israel’s actions, including alleged war crimes committed during the fighting in 2014. Israel is now implementing precisely the same policy that the ICC is examining.”

According to Israeli journalist Amira Hass, 15 Israeli strikes have targeted individual family homes, causing multiple deaths among members of the 15 families living there.

‘The numerous incidents of killing entire families in Israeli bombings in Gaza – parents and children, babies, grandparents, siblings – attest that these were not mistakes. The bombings follow a decision from higher up, backed by the approval of military jurists.’ wrote Hass in Haaretz.

When the ceasefire came into effect, the Palestinian National Authority set the number of entire families killed at 20 and announced it will lodge a complaint at the International Court of Justice for “war crimes” in that regard.
Palestinian journalist Yusuf Abu Hussein was killed in an Israeli airstrike in his home on May 19, prompting an outcry from the International Federation of Journalists.

An Israeli airstrike on May 20 killed a disabled Palestinian man, his pregnant wife, and their three-year-old daughter.
Palestinian officials put the reconstruction costs at tens of millions of dollars, while economists said the fighting could curb Israel’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Margaret Harris said Gaza’s health facilities were overwhelmed by the thousands of injuries. She called for immediate access into the Gaza Strip for health supplies and personnel.

“The real challenges are the closures,” she told a virtual UN briefing. Fabrizio Carboni, regional Director of the International Committee of the Red Cross, echoed WHO’s call for urgent medical supplies, adding, “It will take years to rebuild – and even more to rebuild the fractured lives.”

Gaza has for years been subjected to an Israeli blockade that restricts the passage of people and goods, as well as restrictions by Egypt.

Both countries cite concerns about weapons reaching Hamas, the organisation that controls Gaza and led the rocket barrage. Palestinians say the restrictions amount to the collective punishment of Gaza’s 2 million population.

US President, Joe Biden, said on May 20 that aid would be sent quickly to Gaza, but coordinated with the Palestinian Authority – in the occupied West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, made a televised address to Israelis, saying the operation had damaged Hamas’s ability to launch missiles at Israel.

He said Israel had destroyed Hamas’s extensive tunnel network, its rocket factories, weapons laboratories and storage facilities, and killed more than 200 militants, including 25 senior figures.
“Hamas can’t hide any more. That’s a great achievement for Israel,” he said.
The Israeli military said that 90 per cent of those missiles that crossed the border had been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defence system.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh cast the fighting as successful resistance to a militarily and economically stronger foe.
“We will rebuild what the occupation (Israel) destroyed and restore our capabilities,” he said, “and we will not abandon our obligations and duties to the families of martyrs, the wounded and those whose homes were destroyed.”

Haniyeh expressed gratitude to Egyptian, Qatari and UN mediators, and to Iran, “which has not given up on providing the resistance with money, weapons and technology.” Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged Muslim states in a statement to “support the Palestinian people, through military … or financial support … or in rebuilding Gaza’s infrastructure.”

Ezzat el-Reshiq, a senior member of the Hamas political bureau, said the movement’s demands included protection for the Al-Aqsa mosque, and for Palestinians threatened with eviction from their homes in East Jerusalem.

Israeli raids on Al-Aqsa compound 

The Israel-Hamas hostilities were set off on May 10 in part by Israeli police raids on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound where the police fired stun grenades and rubber-coated metal bullets and attempts of forced evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan.

The truce, mediated by Egypt, appeared to be part of a two-stage deal, with Cairo sending security delegations to Tel Aviv and the

Palestinian territories to agree on measures to maintain stability.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that “our engagement with the leader of Egypt was a key part of that discussion and a key part of bringing an end to the conflict, given their important relationship with Hamas.”

UK position

The UK Government resolutely backed Israel in the conflict, insisting Tel Aviv “has a legitimate right to self-defence and to defend its citizens from attack.”

James Cleverly, the Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, told Parliament on May 20 that the UK “unequivocally condemns the firing of rockets at Jerusalem and other locations within Israel. We strongly condemn these acts of terrorism by Hamas and other terrorist groups, who must permanently end their incitement and rocket fire against Israel. There is no justification for the targeting of civilians.”

However, he did not condemn Israel for its indiscriminate bombing of Gaza strip killing Palestinian civilians.

He criticised Israel for destroying buildings in Gaza. “We are aware of medical institutions, several schools and many homes in Gaza that have been destroyed or seriously damaged, and we are concerned that buildings housing media and humanitarian organisations such as Qatar Red Crescent have been destroyed. We call on Israel to adhere to the principles of necessity and proportionality when defending its legitimate security interests.”

The UK voted against a UN resolution to establish an inquiry into Human Rights violations in Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem & Israel.Despite the Government’s stance, Parliament will debate the introduction of sanctions against Israel on June 14 after a petition calling for sanctions reached over 380,100 signatures on May 23.

The text of the petition reads: “The Government should introduce sanctions against Israel, including blocking all trade, and in particular arms. Its disproportionate treatment of Palestinians and settlements that are regarded by the international community as illegal are an affront to civilised society.”

On June 8 the Foreign, Office (FCDO) issued its response to a petition which in summary stated that ‘the UK is firmly opposed to boycotts or sanctions against Israel. Our close and varied relationship means we are able to express clearly when we disagree.’

On individual businesses operating in illegal Jewish settlements, the FCDO said it ‘advise British businesses to bear in mind the British Government’s view on the illegality of settlements under international law’. But noted that ‘ultimately, it will be the decision of an individual or company whether to operate in settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but the British Government would neither encourage nor offer support to such activity.’

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