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Gaza siege: Over 4,600 Palestinians, including 1,800 children killed

27th Oct 2023
Gaza siege: Over 4,600 Palestinians, including 1,800 children killed

A distraught Palestinian mother holds her injured child at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, Gaza, following an Israeli attack on October 18, 2023. (Credit: Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency)

Abdul Adil, additional reporting Nadine Osman

 

As we go to press, the Palestinian death toll in Gaza from indiscriminate Israeli attacks, which began on October 7, has climbed to 4,651 and more than 1,000 bodies are still trapped beneath the rubble, the besieged enclave’s Health Ministry announced on October 22.

The Palestinian death toll, which includes over 1,800 children and 1,000 women, far exceeds that of any previous war. More than 14,200 additional Palestinians have been injured, with more than half of them being children and women.
On October 19, the Ministry of Housing in Gaza reported that at least 30 per cent of all housing units in the Gaza Strip have been either destroyed (12,845), rendered uninhabitable (9,055), or moderately/lightly damaged (121,000).

The current war erupted on October 7 when the military wing of Hamas, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, launched Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, storming into southern Israel in a shocking surprise attack that killed more than 1,300 Israelis, including children, 220 soldiers, 45 police officers, and 1,700 wounded.

The spokesman for the Qassam Brigades, Abu Obeida, has said that factions have between 200 and 250 people held captive in Gaza. Israel has accused Hamas of war crimes.

Hamas said the attack was in response to what they said were “the continuing attacks by Israeli forces and settlers against the Palestinian people, their property, and their sanctities [in the West Bank], especially Al-Aqsa Mosque in Occupied East Jerusalem.”

In retaliation, Israel launched ongoing Operation Swords of Iron air strikes against Gaza, causing death and destruction on a massive scale in mainly civilian areas of the besieged territory.

 

ISRAEL WAR CRIMES

By October 20 (day 13 of Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza),Amnesty International said its research points to “damning evidence of war crimes in Israel’s bombing campaign” that must be urgently investigated.

Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said, “Decades of impunity and injustice and the unprecedented level of death and destruction of the current offensive will only result in further violence and instability in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

She added, “It is vital that the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court urgently expedites its ongoing investigation into evidence of war crimes and other crimes under international law by all parties. Without justice and the dismantlement of Israel’s system of apartheid against Palestinians, there can be no end to the horrifying civilian suffering we are witnessing.”

Amnesty International reports that, in all missile strikes documented by them, the Israeli military either failed to warn civilians at all or issued inadequate warnings. A few times, they informed one person about a strike that affected whole buildings or streets full of people, or they issued unclear evacuation orders that left residents confused about the timeframe.

“In no case did Israeli forces ensure civilians had a safe place to evacuate to. In one attack on Jabalia Market, people left their homes in response to an “evacuation” order, only to be killed in the place to which they had fled,” reports Amnesty.

 

Collective punishment

 

Several actions taken by the Israeli army were characterised as collective punishment, a war crime prohibited by treaty in both international and non-international armed conflicts, more specifically Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II.

Doctors Without Borders International President Christos Christou said millions of civilians in Gaza faced “collective punishment” due to Israel’s blockade on water, food, fuel, electricity, and medicine.

Several independent UN experts condemned violence against civilians in Israel and denounced Gaza’s reprisal strikes as a “collective punishment.”

While condemning the “horrific crimes committed by Hamas,” the group said that Israel had resorted to “indiscriminate military attacks against the already exhausted Palestinian people of Gaza.”

“They have lived under an unlawful blockade for 16 years and have already gone through five major brutal wars, which remain unaccounted for,” the group, which includes several UN special rapporteurs, said in a statement issued on October 12.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog accused the residents of Gaza of collective responsibility for the war.

“It is an entire nation out there that is responsible,” Herzog said at a press conference on October 13. “It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime that took over Gaza in a coup d’état.”

In response to accusations of collective punishment by US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Israel Katz, the Israeli Minister of Energy, wrote, “Indeed, Madam Congresswoman. We have to draw a line. They will not receive a drop of water or a single battery until they leave the world.”

On October 9, Israel’s Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, announced a complete siege on Gaza, which involved cutting off essential supplies like electricity, food, water, and gas.

This tactic raised concerns about violations of the laws of war since civilians were being denied necessities. The UN warned that any siege endangering civilian lives by depriving them of essential goods was prohibited under International Humanitarian Law.

Tom Dannenbaum, an expert on siege law at Tufts University, described Israel’s outspoken policy of total blockade and deprivation as “an abnormally clear-cut instance of starving civilians as a means of war, an unambiguous violation of human rights.”

 

Denial of water

As part of Israel’s blockade on Gaza, all access to water was shut off. Article 51 of the Berlin Rules on Water Resources bars combatants from removing water or water infrastructure to cause death or to force its movement.

On October 14, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, announced Gaza no longer had clean drinking water, and two million people were at risk of death from dehydration.

On October 15, Israel agreed to resume water supply to southern Gaza; however, aid workers and a government spokesperson reported that no water was available. The EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, described Israel’s cutting off water as “not in accordance with international law.”

 

Use of White Phosphorus

Israel has been accused of using white phosphorus munitions in Gaza and Lebanon, “putting civilians at risk of serious and long-term injuries.”

Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed it had verified videos taken on October 10 and 11 showing “multiple” uses of artillery-fired white phosphorus in Israel’s military operations.

The non-governmental organisation described the weapon as capable of causing multiple organ failures and “burning people, thermally and chemically, down to the bone.” It added, “Even relatively minor burns are often fatal.”

Lama Fakih, Middle East and North Africa Director at HRW said, “Any time that white phosphorus is used in crowded civilian areas, it poses a high risk of excruciating burns and lifelong suffering. White phosphorus is unlawfully indiscriminate when it bursts into populated urban areas, where it can burn down houses and cause egregious harm to civilians.”

Accusing Israel of using white phosphorus in densely populated areas of Gaza, the group alleged the country is “violating the requirement under international humanitarian law to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian injury and loss of life.”

 

Forced Displacement

On October 13, Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, announced that the Israel Defence Force (IDF) informed the UN before midnight Gaza time that the entire population north of Wadi Gaza should “relocate to southern Gaza within the next 24 hours.”

The UN “considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences,” Dujarric said, and it “strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded, avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.”

Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit branded the Israeli order a “forced transfer” that he said constitutes a “crime,” while the Secretary General of the pan-Arab body, in a letter sent to UN chief Guterres, accused Israel of conducting “an atrocious act of revenge… punishing helpless civilians in Gaza”.

HRW said the order “risks forced displacement, which is a war crime. About 70% of Gaza residents are refugees who fled their homes in what is now Israel in 1948 and their descendants.

Many of the older people in northern Gaza remember all too well their flight from the Israeli army 75 years ago and Israel’s subsequent refusal to allow them to return. Statements by Israeli officials calling on Gaza residents to flee to Egypt exacerbate the fears of many Palestinian refugees in Gaza that they will lose their homes once again.”

 

Targeting of Hospitals

In the first week of the siege (October 7–17), the World Health Organisation (WHO) recorded 136 Israeli airstrikes on medical institutions, resulting in 493 fatalities and 382 injuries.

The deadliest airstrike was on Al-Ahli Arabi Baptist Hospital on October 17, which, according to the WHO’s initial assessment, claimed 471 lives and inflicted 342 injuries, including 28 critical. The Palestinian Health Ministry, which said the airstrike was by the IDF, put the number of dead from that airstrike at over 500.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied his forces were responsible, insisting that intelligence from several sources revealed that Islamic Jihad was responsible for the unsuccessful rocket launch.

However, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, countered Netanyahu’s denials insisting Israeli forces hit the hospital, speculating the presence of Hamas bases around the premises.

“He is a liar. His digital spokesperson tweeted that Israel did the hit thinking that there was a base for Hamas around this hospital, and then he deleted that tweet. We have a copy of that tweet. Now they changed the story to try to blame the Palestinians,” Mansour told the press.

The Palestinian Ambassador in Japan also revealed to The Spectator that the Israeli military had issued a warning to the hospital an hour before the blast, making Al-Ahli one of 22 hospitals in the north end of the Gaza Strip facing evacuation orders from the Israeli military.

HRW officials also called the attack “yet another war crime committed by the Israeli army, on a list that keeps getting longer and longer and longer.”

“When will Western power open their eyes and pressure their ally to stop this bloodbath?” asked Ahmed Benchemsi, Middle East, and North Africa Communications Director for HRW. Hamas called the targeting of the hospital an act of “genocide.”

A summit with the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and Jordan—including US President Biden—set for the following day was cancelled. The explosion has also triggered widespread criticism throughout the Arab world, prompting protests near the Israeli, US, and French embassies in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Tunisia.

Israel’s attack on Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza is not the first time the Israeli army has targeted schools and hospitals—spaces traditionally considered safe havens during a war. The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem said Israel had hit the hospital on October 14. WHO has said Israel has attacked 57 healthcare facilities and 23 ambulances since October 7.

 

UK Government Complicit War Crimes

The UK government, along with the leadership of the Labour opposition, has made it clear that it stands behind Israel in the current conflict. However, the UK government has been warned it could be complicit in war crimes in Gaza and may even face legal action if it does not do more to try and force Israel to show constraint in its attacks on Palestinians.

Tory MP for Reigate, Crispin Blunt, said he does not believe members of the government “have grasped the legal peril they are in” as he condemned Israel’s heavy bombing of the Gaza Strip, a 25-mile-long stretch of land in which 2.2 million people live.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman was questioned by The Muslim News on the legality of Israel cutting off Gaza’s water and electricity supply; on October 9, he responded, “I haven’t seen any firm reports of that claim. Obviously, they [Israel] are engaged in a response to this attack [by Hamas on Israelis]. But we support their right to self-defence and their right to take proportionate [response].”

The Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly, was asked by Sky’s Kay Burley whether he wanted to voice support for people in Gaza, who are currently “under siege.” He objected to the premise of the question.

“The truth is that the reason we express our solidarity with the people of Israel is because terrorists took action to murder and kidnap, and we’re now seeing reports that they are threatening to execute people that they have kidnapped,” he said.

“The idea that somehow there is an equivalence, that there is a kind of balancing act between the actions of the Israeli government and their self-defence and the actions of Hamas and their terrorists, is completely inappropriate.”

Labour Leader Keir Starmer said Israel has the right to impose a siege on Gazan civilians. In an interview with LBC on October 11, he was asked if a “siege is appropriate? Cutting off power, cutting off water?” Starmer replied, “Israel does have that right. It is an ongoing situation. Everything should be done under international law. Israel has a right to defend itself.”

The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP), of which Blunt is co-director, confirmed on October 14 that it intends to prosecute UK government officials for “aiding and abetting war crimes in Gaza.”

The ICJP also issued Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Shadow Attorney General for England and Wales Emily Thornberry, and Shadow Defence Secretary David Lammy a notice of intention to prosecute UK politicians for their role in aiding and abetting Israel’s perpetration of war crimes.

Scotland Yard’s War Crimes Unit has launched calls for evidence relating to war crimes in the region, which could lead to senior politicians being prosecuted for war crimes by Scotland Yard. Individuals could also be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Photo: A grieving mother, who lost her son in an Israeli bombardment of Khan Yunis in Gaza on October 18, is consoled.
(Credit: Abed Zagout/Anadolu Agency)


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