Total Siege of Gaza ‘Prohibited’ under International law: UN

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GAZA –Israel’s total siege of the Gaza Strip, depriving civilians of goods essential for survival, is banned under international law, the United Nations human rights chief said on Tuesday.

Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said people’s dignity and lives had to be respected as he called for all sides to defuse the “explosive powder-keg situation”.

https://x.com/UNHumanRights/status/1711670003303424354?s=20

It comes after Israel imposed a total siege on the Gaza Strip yesterday, cutting off food, water and electricity supplies, and sparking fears of an increasingly desperate humanitarian situation.


Key developments

  • UN says total siege prohibited under international law, calls for humanitarian corridor
  • 200,000 displaced in Gaza, water shortages expected
  • At least 770 Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes, 900 Israelis dead in Hamas blitz
  • Iran’s Khamenei denies involvement in Hamas offensive

“International humanitarian law is clear: the obligation to take constant care to spare the civilian population and civilian objects remains applicable throughout the attacks,” Turk said in a statement.

The siege risk seriously compounding the already dire human rights and humanitarian situation in Gaza, including the capacity of medical facilities to operate, especially in light of increasing numbers of injured, the statement said.

“The imposition of sieges that endanger the lives of civilians by depriving them of goods essential for their survival is prohibited under international humanitarian law,” Turk said.

Any restrictions on the movement of people and goods to implement a siege must be justified by military necessity or may otherwise amount to collective punishment, the statement added.

200,000 flee homes from Gaza

The United Nations humanitarian office said that nearly 200,000 people or nearly a tenth of the population, have fled their homes in Gaza since the start of hostilities and is poised for shortages of water and electricity due to a blockade.

“Displacement has escalated dramatically across the Gaza strip, reaching more than 187,500 people since Saturday. Most are taking shelter in schools,” Jens Laerke, OCHA spokesperson, told a Geneva briefing, saying further displacement was expected as clashes continue.

A World Health Organisation spokesperson said it had reported 13 attacks on health facilities in the Gaza strip since the weekend and said that its medical supplies stored there had already been used up.

The WHO, meanwhile, called for a humanitarian corridor to be established into and out of the Gaza Strip. “WHO is calling for an end to the violence… A humanitarian corridor is needed to reach people with critical medical supplies,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a press briefing in Geneva.

Israeli air operations have struck residential buildings, including large tower blocks, as well as schools and UN buildings across Gaza, resulting in civilian casualties, the United Nations Human Rights chief said on Tuesday, citing information gathered by his office.

Israel takes back control

Earlier in the day, Israel said it had re-established control over the Gaza border and was planting mines where Hamas fighters had toppled the barrier during their weekend offensive, after another night of relentless Israeli air raids on the enclave.

Israel’s latest round of air strikes came after the military called up an unprecedented 300,000 reservists and imposed a total blockade on the Gaza Strip, raising fears it planned a ground assault in response to the most audacious Hamas attack in decades.

The violence, which has claimed more than 1,500 lives, prompted international declarations of support for Israel, street protests in support of Palestinians, and appeals for an end to the fighting and protection of civilians.

A picture shows a view of the destruction from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City’s al-Rimal neighbourhood early on October 10, 2023. — AFP

Gaza’s health ministry said at least 770 Palestinians have been killed and 4,000 wounded in Israeli air strikes since Saturday. At least another 18 people were killed and 100 injured in the West Bank since Saturday, the ministry added.

Apartment blocks, a mosque and hospitals were among the sites attacked, and the strikes destroyed some roads and houses, according to media reports and eyewitnesses.

Israel also bombed the headquarters of the private Palestinian Telecommunication Co., which could affect landline telephone, internet and mobile phone services.

The strikes continued into the night on Monday. The Israeli military said it hit targets in the Gaza Strip from the sea and air, including a weapons depot it claimed belonged to Islamic Jihad and Hamas targets along Gaza’s coastline.

Israeli TV channels said the death toll from the Hamas attack had climbed to 900 Israelis, with at least 2,600 injured, and dozens taken captive. Among the Israeli dead were 260 mostly young people gunned down at a desert music festival, where some of the hostages were abducted.

In remarks aired by Israel’s Army Radio, chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said there had been no new infiltrations from Gaza since Monday. In an apparent response to rumours that fighters used cross-border tunnels, he said the military had no such findings.

Iran denies involvement

Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denied any Iranian involvement in Hamas’s shock weekend attack.

“The supporters of the Zionist regime (Israel) and some people in the usurping regime have been spreading rumours over the past two or three days, including that Islamic Iran was behind this action. They are wrong,” Khamenei said in a speech at a military academy.

“Of course, we defend Palestine, we defend the struggles,” he added, urging “the whole Islamic world” to “support the Palestinians.” Khamenei said Israel has suffered an “irreparable failure” on both “military and intelligence” fronts.

“Everyone has spoken of the failure, I put the emphasise on its irreparability,” he said.

Hostages

Hamas spokesperson Abu Ubaida issued a threat on Monday to kill Israelis among the dozens held captive after the surprise attack on Saturday morning. He said Hamas would execute an Israeli captive for every Israeli bombing of a civilian house without warning, and broadcast the execution.

There was no immediate response from the Israeli military to that threat. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said more than 100 people had been taken captive by Hamas during the deadly cross-border incursion over the weekend.

Forced from home

Palestinians reported receiving calls and mobile phone audio messages from Israeli security officers telling them to leave areas mainly in the northern and eastern territories of Gaza, and warning that the army would operate there.

Dozens of people in Gaza City’s Remal neighbourhood fled their homes.

“We took ourselves, children and grandchildren and daughters-in-law and we ran away. I can say that we became refugees. We don’t have safety or security. What’s this life? This is not a life,” resident Salah Hanouneh, 73, said.

In Israel’s south, scene of the Hamas attack, Israel’s chief military spokesperson said troops had re-established control of communities inside Israel that had been overrun, but isolated clashes continued as some gunmen remained active.

The announcement that 300,000 reservists had been activated in just two days added to speculation that Israel could be contemplating a ground assault on Gaza, a territory it abandoned nearly two decades ago.

“We have never drafted so many reservists on such a scale,” Hagari said. “We are going on the offensive.”

Washington — which provides Israel with $3.8 billion in military assistance each year — said it was sending in fresh supplies of air defences, munitions and other security assistance to Israel.

The United States’ top general warned Iran not to get involved in the crisis and said he did not want the conflict to broaden. Iran applauded the weekend attack but denied any involvement.

“We want to send a pretty strong message. We do not want this to broaden and the idea is for Iran to get that message loud and clear,” General Charles Q. Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters travelling with him to Brussels.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed US support for Israel in a call with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, the State Department said in a statement early Tuesday.

Blinken “reaffirmed our efforts to secure the immediate release of all hostages,” the statement said.

Governments including Italy, Thailand and Ukraine reported that their citizens had perished in the Hamas attacks. In Washington, President Joe Biden announced that at least 11 Americans had been killed and it was likely US citizens were among those held hostage.

As Israel conducted intense retaliatory strikes on Gaza, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant drew international condemnation by announcing a tightened blockade to prevent food and fuel from reaching the strip, home to 2.3 million people.

Hamas-affiliated media said at least 20 people had been killed in Israeli strikes on houses in the Gaza Strip late on Monday. Palestinian media also reported that an Israeli air strike on a building in Gaza City had killed two Palestinian journalists and seriously wounded a third.

Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the reports. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

International response

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said some 137,000 people were taking shelter with UNRWA, the UN agency that provides essential services to Palestinians.

The British, French, German, Italian and US governments issued a joint statement recognising the “legitimate aspirations” of the Palestinian people, and supporting equal measures of justice and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians alike.

They also said they would remain “united and coordinated” to ensure Israel can defend itself.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan called on Hamas and Israel to immediately end violence and protect civilians, the Egyptian presidency said.

Qatari mediators held urgent calls to try to negotiate freedom for Israeli women and children seized by Hamas in exchange for the release of 36 Palestinian women and children from Israeli prisons.

The prospect that fighting could spread alarmed the region and world.

Lebanese armed group Hezbollah fired rockets into northern Israel in response to at least three of its members being killed in Israeli shelling of Lebanon. Israel said one of its deputy commanders was killed in an earlier cross-border raid from Lebanon. -Agencies

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