Israel pounds Gaza with deadly airstrikes as UN says total siege prohibited under international law

Published October 10, 2023
Palestinian walks through the rubble while smoke rises from a damaged residential building nearby, in the aftermath of Israeli strikes, in Gaza City, October 10, 2023. — Reuters
Palestinian walks through the rubble while smoke rises from a damaged residential building nearby, in the aftermath of Israeli strikes, in Gaza City, October 10, 2023. — Reuters
A view shows smoke near houses and buildings destroyed by Israeli strikes in Gaza City, October 10. — Reuters
A view shows smoke near houses and buildings destroyed by Israeli strikes in Gaza City, October 10. — Reuters
Palestinians watch a fire burn among the rubble of a damaged residential building, in the aftermath of Israeli strikes, in Gaza City, October 10, 2023. — Reuters/Mohammed Salem
Palestinians watch a fire burn among the rubble of a damaged residential building, in the aftermath of Israeli strikes, in Gaza City, October 10, 2023. — Reuters/Mohammed Salem
Palestinians inspect the damage in the aftermath of Israeli strikes, in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip on October 10, 2023.—Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Palestinians inspect the damage in the aftermath of Israeli strikes, in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip on October 10, 2023.—Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Deadly Israeli airstrikes pounded the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and razed entire districts as the United Nations said Israel’s total siege of the Palestinian enclave is banned under international law.

Gaza’s health ministry said the bombing had killed at least 830 people and wounded 4,250. The strikes intensified as night fell, shaking the ground and sending more columns of smoke and flames into the sky.

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. Hamas has threatened to execute the hostages if Israeli air strikes continued targeting Gaza residents without warning.


Key developments

  • UN calls for humanitarian corridor, says there is “clear evidence” on war crimes
  • 200,000 displaced in Gaza, water shortages expected
  • At least 830 Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes, 900 Israelis dead in Hamas blitz
  • Iran’s Khamenei denies involvement in Hamas offensive; Israeli, Palestinian FMs set to address EU meeting

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

“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.

‘No place is safe in Gaza’

At the morgue in Gaza’s Khan Younis hospital, bodies were laid on the ground on stretchers with names written on their bellies. Medics called for relatives to pick up bodies quickly because there was no more space for the dead.

A municipal building was hit while being used as an emergency shelter. Survivors there spoke of many dead.

“No place is safe in Gaza, as you see they hit everywhere,” said Ala Abu Tair, 35, who had sought shelter there with his family after fleeing Abassan Al-Kabira near the border.

Radwan Abu al-Kass, a boxing instructor and father of three, said he had been one of the last to evacuate his five-storey building in the Al Rimal district after the area came under attack. He finally left when a missile hit the building, which was destroyed by a bigger strike after he got out.

“The whole district was just erased,” he said.

Two members of Hamas’ political office, Jawad Abu Shammala and Zakaria Abu Maamar, were killed in an air strike in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, a Hamas official said. The Israeli military said they had been struck overnight.

The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said Israeli strikes had since Saturday destroyed more than 22,600 residential units and 10 health facilities and damaged 48 schools.

Palestinian journalists killed

Four Palestinian journalists were killed in Israeli air strikes on Gaza City on Tuesday, media unions and officials have said.

The latest deaths bring the number of Palestinian journalists killed in the fighting since Saturday to eight, the Palestinian Press Union said in a statement.

Another union, the Gaza journalists’ syndicate, announced earlier “the martyrdom of three journalists in the Gaza Strip in the ongoing Israeli aggression”.

The chief of Gaza’s Hamas-run government media office, Salameh Maarouf, identified the three as Said al-Taweel, director of Al-Khamisa news agency; press photographer Mohammed Sobboh, and Hisham Nawajhah, a correspondent for a Gaza news agency.

They were killed in a strike while covering the evacuation of a residential building near Gaza City’s fishing port, Maarouf said, condemning Israel’s “criminal behaviour against journalists”.

Members of the press were standing several dozen metres (yards) from the building after a resident received a telephone call from the Israeli army warning of an imminent strike, an AFP correspondent reported.

Witnesses said the Israeli strike hit a different building, closer to where the journalists had been.

Later in the day, the press union said the head of its committee of women journalists, Salam Khalil, was killed along with her husband and children when the family’s home in the northern Gaza Strip was hit in a “treacherous” Israeli bombing.

Journalist Asad Shamlakh was killed on Sunday, the media office statement said, adding two cameramen were missing and 10 journalists were wounded.

Three journalists were killed on Saturday, according to the Palestinian statement and the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The New York-based media rights group said on Monday that Ibrahim Mohammad Lafi, a photographer, Mohammad Jarghoun, a reporter, and Mohammad El-Salhi had been shot dead in different incidents.

“We call on all sides to remember that journalists are civilians and should not be targeted,” Sherif Mansour of the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.

“Accurate reporting is critical during times of crisis and the media has a vital role to play in bringing news from Gaza and Israel to the world. “

‘Clear evidence’ on war crimes

Separaterly, the ongoing UN investigation into alleged human rights violations in the Israeli-Palestinian war said there was “already clear evidence that war crimes may have been committed” since Saturday’s surprise Hamas assault.

“All those who have violated international law and targeted civilians must be held accountable for their crimes,” said the Commission of Inquiry.

The COI, the highest-level investigation that can be ordered by the UN Human Rights Council, was set up in May 2021 to investigate all alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.

The independent commission said it had been “collecting and preserving evidence of war crimes committed by all sides” in the current conflict.

“Taking civilian hostages and using civilians as human shields are war crimes,” it said.

It is also “gravely concerned” by Israel’s total siege on the Gaza Strip, “which will undoubtfully cost civilian lives and constitutes collective punishment”.

200,000 flee homes in 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.

Palestinians carry food supplies as they walk through debris amid the destruction from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City’s al-Rimal neighbourhood on October 10, 2023. — AFP
Palestinians carry food supplies as they walk through debris amid the destruction from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City’s al-Rimal neighbourhood on October 10, 2023. — AFP

Israeli, Palestinian FMs set to address EU meeting

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he has invited the top diplomats from Israel and the Palestinian Authority to address an emergency meeting today of the bloc’s foreign ministers.

Borrell said Israel’s Foreign Minister, Eli Cohen, and his Palestinian counterpart, Riyad al-Maliki, were asked to participate in the hybrid video and in-person talks after the surprise Hamas assault.

Brussels rowed back comments from neighbourhood commissioner Oliver Varhelyi on Monday that the 27-nation bloc was immediately suspending “all payments” to the Palestinians.

The EU’s executive arm said it was reviewing hundreds of millions of euros (dollars) of development aid from the EU, the biggest donor to the Palestinians, but that payments were not suspended.

The European Commission said it was checking if the funding was indirectly enabling “any terrorist organisation to carry out attacks against Israel”.

Emergency humanitarian aid continues to flow to the Palestinians, the bloc said.

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

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.

Thawatchai and Thongkoon On-kaew, parents of Natthaporn, who was working in Israel, who has been abducted in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, hold up his pictures during an interview with Reuters at their house in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, October 10, 2023.—Reuters
Thawatchai and Thongkoon On-kaew, parents of Natthaporn, who was working in Israel, who has been abducted in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, hold up his pictures during an interview with Reuters at their house in Nakhon Phanom, Thailand, October 10, 2023.—Reuters

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.

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.

Palestinians flee their homes, amid Israeli strikes, in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip October 10, 2023.—Reuters
Palestinians flee their homes, amid Israeli strikes, in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip October 10, 2023.—Reuters

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.

Palestinians sit and walk among rubbles of a damaged residential building, in the aftermath of Israeli strikes, in Gaza City, October 10, 2023. — Reuters
Palestinians sit and walk among rubbles of a damaged residential building, in the aftermath of Israeli strikes, in Gaza City, October 10, 2023. — Reuters

“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.

Israeli tanks are seen near Israel’s border with Lebanon, as tension mounts between the two countries, in northern Israel, October 10, 2023. — Reuters
Israeli tanks are seen near Israel’s border with Lebanon, as tension mounts between the two countries, in northern Israel, October 10, 2023. — Reuters

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.

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