‘Horrendous events’ in Gaza in past days ‘beggar belief’: UN rights chief

5 min read
Palestinians fleeing the fighting in war-torn Gaza walk on Salaheddine road in the Zeitoun district of the southern part of the Gaza Strip on November 19, 2023. (AFP)
  • All 31 premature babies at Al-Shifa hospital had been evacuated Sunday from the facility which the WHO has described as a "death zone".
  • A deal to free hostages Hamas seized in its October 7 attack on Israel now hinges on "minor" practical issues, Qatar's prime minister said.

Geneva, Switzerland — The level of violence ravaging Gaza in recent days is unfathomable, the UN rights chief said Sunday, with attacks on schools harboring displaced people and a hospital turned into a “death zone”.

“The horrendous events of the past 48 hours in Gaza beggar belief,” United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement.

He spoke as the World Health Organization scrambled to evacuate the last remaining patients and staff from the Al-Shifa hospital, with UN officials describing the Palestinian territory’s largest health facility, raided last week by Israeli troops, as a “death zone”.

Elsewhere in northern Gaza, a Hamas health official said more than 80 people were killed on Saturday in twin strikes on Jabalia refugee camp, including on a UN school sheltering displaced people.

“The killing of so many people at schools turned shelters, hundreds fleeing for their lives from Al-Shifa Hospital, amid continuing displacement of hundreds of thousands in southern Gaza, are actions which fly in the face of the basic protections civilians must be afforded under international law,” Turk said.

He described the images purportedly taken in the aftermath of the reported Israeli strike on the UN-run Al-Fakhura school as “horrifying”, and “clearly showing large numbers of women, children and men severely wounded or killed”.

‘May constitute war crimes’
The UN rights chief pointed out that in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, the Israeli military “are dropping leaflets demanding residents go to unspecified “recognized shelters”, even as strikes take place across Gaza”.

“Irrespective of warnings, Israel is obliged to protect civilians wherever they are”, he said, pointing to the principles under international law of distinction, proportionality and precautions when carrying out attacks.

“Failure to adhere to these rules may constitute war crimes,” Turk said.

Gaza official Turk said at least three other schools hosting displaced people had also been attacked in the past 48 hours.

“The pain, dread, and fear etched on the faces of children, women and men is too much to bear,” he said.

“How much more violence, bloodshed and misery will it take before people come to their senses? How many more civilians will be killed?

“Humanity must come first,” he said, stressing the desperate need for a ceasefire “now”.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas after its militants carried out unprecedented attacks inside Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking some 240 people hostage, according to Israeli officials.

The army’s relentless air and ground campaign has since killed 12,300 people, most of them civilians, including more than 5,000 children, according to the Hamas government which has ruled Gaza since 2007.

31 premature babies evacuated from Al-Shifa hospital

A top health official in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said all 31 premature babies at Al-Shifa hospital had been evacuated Sunday from the facility which the WHO has described as a “death zone”.

The move was confirmed by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PCRS), which said its teams carried out the evacuation in coordination with UN agencies including the World Health Organization.

Mohammed Zaqut, director general of hospitals in Gaza, told AFP “all 31 premature babies in Al-Shifa hospital… have been evacuated” along with three doctors and two nurses.

“Preparations are under way” for them to enter Egypt, he added.

Refugee camp hit twice

A health ministry official in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said more than 80 people were killed in two separate Israeli strikes on the Jabalia refugee camp.

“At least 50 people” were killed in an Israeli strike on the UN-run Al-Fakhura school, which had been converted into a shelter for displaced Palestinians, the official told AFP.

A separate strike on another building killed 32 people from the same family, 19 of them children, the official added.

Talks toward a hostage deal

The United States said it was still working to secure a deal between Israel and Hamas after a reported tentative agreement to free women and children held hostage in Gaza in exchange for a pause in fighting.

“We have not reached a deal yet, but we continue to work hard to get to a deal,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said on X, formerly Twitter, in response to the Washington Post reporting a deal had been agreed.

Israel march for hostages

Thousands of Israelis including friends and relatives of hostages taken by Hamas arrived in Jerusalem, capping a four-day march to pressure the government to secure the captives’ release.

Since Hamas militants surged out of Gaza six weeks ago and, according to Israel, seized some 240 hostages, their loved ones have waged a determined campaign for their freedom.

A column of thousands of demonstrators draped in white and blue Israeli flags reached Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office chanting: “Bring them home now.”

Only ‘minor’ challenges to Israel-Hamas hostage deal: Qatar PM

A deal to free hostages Hamas seized in its October 7 attack on Israel now hinges on “minor” practical issues, Qatar’s prime minister said Sunday, without giving details or a timeline.

“The challenges that remain in the negotiations are very minor compared to the bigger challenges, they are more logistical, they are more practical,” Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told a joint press conference with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Qatar has helped broker talks aiming to free some of the 240 hostages in return for a temporary ceasefire, a mediation effort that has so far led to the release of four hostages.

“The deal is going through ups and downs from time to time throughout the last few weeks,” the premier said.

“I think that I’m now more confident that we are close enough to reach a deal that can bring the people safely back to their homes.”