War crimes committed by both sides of Israel-Hamas conflict, says UN rights chief
We have fallen off a precipice, says Volker Turk at the Rafah crossing in Egypt
Cairo — The UN high commissioner for human rights said on Wednesday war crimes had been committed by both Israel and Hamas in the conflict that erupted just over a month ago.
“The atrocities perpetrated by Palestinian armed groups on 7 October were heinous, they were war crimes — as is the continued holding of hostages,” Volker Turk said at the Rafah crossing in Egypt on the border with Gaza.
“The collective punishment by Israel of Palestinian civilians is also a war crime, as is unlawful forcible evacuation of civilians,” he added.
Speaking of the humanitarian aid that has been delivered through Rafah, Turk said: “The lifeline has been unjustly, outrageously thin.”
Israel has bombarded Gaza unrelentingly in response to a cross-border Hamas raid on southern Israel on October 7, in which gunmen killed 1,400 people and took about 240 hostages. Israeli bombardments have killed more than 10,500, including many women and children.
“I call — as a matter of urgency — for the parties now to agree a ceasefire,” Turk said.
He added that there are three human rights imperatives: the delivery of sufficient humanitarian aid to Gaza, the release of hostages and to “implement a durable end to the occupation”.
“We have fallen off a precipice and this cannot continue,” he said. “Actions of one party do not absolve the actions of the other party.”
Israel has resisted calls by the UN and Group of 7 nations for a humanitarian pause in the hostilities to alleviate the suffering in Gaza, saying it will not agree to a ceasefire until the hostages are released. Hamas says it will not stop fighting while Gaza is under attack.
“Even in the context of a 56-year occupation, the situation is the most dangerous we have faced for people in Gaza, in Israel, in the West Bank but also regionally,” Turk said.
Meanwhile, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that defence alliance’s allies support pauses to allow humanitarian aid to reach Gaza. Stoltenberg made the comments at a joint press conference with Hungarian President Katalin Novak at Nato’s headquarters in Brussels
Thousands of Palestinian civilians used a four-hour window announced by Israel to leave the north of Gaza on Wednesday.
Israel told residents to evacuate the north encircled by its armoured forces or risk being trapped in the violence.
But the central and southern parts of the small, besieged Palestinian enclave also came under fire again as the war against Hamas entered its second month.
Palestinian health officials said an air strike that hit houses in the Nusseirat refugee camp killed 18 people on Wednesday morning. In Khan Younis, six people, including a young girl, were killed in an air strike.
Gaza City, the Hamas militant group’s main bastion in the territory, is surrounded by Israeli forces. The military said troops have advanced to the heart of the city, while Hamas says its fighters have inflicted heavy losses.
Chief Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said combat engineers were using explosive devices to destroy a Hamas tunnel network that stretches for hundreds of kilometres (miles) beneath Gaza.
In a statement on Wednesday, the military said it had destroyed 130 tunnel shafts so far. “Combat engineers fighting in Gaza are destroying the enemy's weapons and are locating, exposing and detonating tunnel shafts,” it said.
Air strikes had also killed a Hamas weapons maker, Mahsein Abu Zina, and several fighters, the Israeli military said.
Negotiations mediated by Qatar, where several Hamas political leaders are based, are trying to secure the release of 10-15 hostages in exchange for a one- to two-day humanitarian pause in Gaza, a source briefed on the talks said on Wednesday.
Israel has so far been vague about its long-term plans if it achieves its stated objective of vanquishing Hamas.
A senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters in Washington late on Tuesday that Israel has no intention of reoccupying the Gaza Strip or controlling it for “a long time”.
“We assess that our current operations are effective and successful, and we’ll continue to push,” the official said. “It’s not unlimited or forever.”
US secretary of state Antony Blinken said at a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday: “Now, the reality is that there may be a need for some transition period at the end of the conflict, but it is imperative that Palestinian people being central to governance in Gaza and in the West Bank as well.
“It’s also clear that Israel cannot occupy Gaza,” he said.