UN experts say Israel’s strikes on Gaza amount to ‘collective punishment’

Published October 12, 2023
A Palestinian child carries bread as he pushes his bike amid the rubble of buildings destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on October 12, 2023. — AFP
A Palestinian child carries bread as he pushes his bike amid the rubble of buildings destroyed in an Israeli air strike in Rafah, on the southern Gaza Strip on October 12, 2023. — AFP
An Israeli army M109 155mm self-propelled howitzer fires rounds near the border with Gaza in southern Israel on October 12, 2023. — AFP
An Israeli army M109 155mm self-propelled howitzer fires rounds near the border with Gaza in southern Israel on October 12, 2023. — AFP
A tank and soldiers from an artillery unit gather near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel on October 12. — Reuters
A tank and soldiers from an artillery unit gather near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel on October 12. — Reuters
A Palestinian man rushes past rubble carrying a child in his arms, following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on October 12, 2023.—AFP
A Palestinian man rushes past rubble carrying a child in his arms, following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on October 12, 2023.—AFP

As heavy Israeli bombardments continued to hit the Palestinian enclave on Thursday, dozens of the United Nations’ rights experts said Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip “amounts to collective punishment”.

The statement comes after Israel imposed a “total siege” to stop food and fuel from reaching the enclave of 2.3 million people, many poor and dependent on aid in response to a surprise Hamas offensive on Saturday that left 1,300 Israelis dead, according to officials.


Key developments

  • Pakistan condemns Israel’s ‘indiscriminate and disproportionate’ use of force against Palestinians, calls for ceasefire
  • Palestinian president calls for ‘opening urgent humanitarian corridors’
  • Gazans at risk of starvation as supplies of electricity, food and water cut off
  • ICRC urges both sides to reduce civilians’ suffering
  • Israeli minister says no let up in siege unless hostages freed

In retaliatory air and artillery strikes, Israeli forces have flattened entire neighbourhoods, hospitals and schools in Gaza, killing 1,400 Palestinians since Saturday, and displacing more than 338,000. Yesterday, electricity went out after the only power station stopped working.

A Palestinian girl reacts in the aftermath of an Israeli strike in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on October 12. —Reuters
A Palestinian girl reacts in the aftermath of an Israeli strike in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on October 12. —Reuters

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 unlawful blockade for 16 years, and already gone through five major brutal wars, which remain unaccounted for,” the group, which includes several UN special rapporteurs, said in a statement.

“This amounts to collective punishment. There is no justification for violence that indiscriminately targets innocent civilians, whether by Hamas or Israeli forces. This is absolutely prohibited under international law and amounts to a war crime,” the group said.

The group said that taking hostages in the context of hostilities also constituted a war crime.

“The civilians taken by Hamas must be immediately released, pending which their fate and whereabouts must be disclosed,” the experts said.

Abbas urges ‘immediate end to aggression’ against Palestinians

Separately, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has called for “an immediate end to the comprehensive aggression against the Palestinian people”, his office said following a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

In his first public remarks since Saturday, Abbas rejected “practices related to killing civilians or abusing them on both sides”, according to a statement.

The two leaders met in Amman and discussed “ways to stop the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people and deliver aid and relief” to Hamas-controlled Gaza, the statement said.

The targeting of civilians by both Israeli forces and Palestinian militants “contravenes morals, religion and international law”, Abbas said.

According to the statement, he stressed Palestinians “renounce violence and adhere to international legitimacy, peaceful popular resistance, and political action as a path to achieving our national goals”.

Abbas also “warned of the danger of the only power plant in the Gaza Strip stopping working due to running out of fuel” and urged action to secure the supply of electricity and water as well as “opening urgent humanitarian corridors”.

Fuel powering hospitals’ generators could run out in hours

The International Committee of the Red Cross said fuel powering emergency generators at hospitals could run out within hours.

“The human misery caused by this escalation is abhorrent, and I implore the sides to reduce the suffering of civilians,” ICRC regional director Fabrizio Carboni said in a statement on Thursday.

“As Gaza loses power, hospitals lose power, putting newborns in incubators and elderly patients on oxygen at risk. Kidney dialysis stops, and X-rays cant be taken. Without electricity, hospitals risk turning into morgues.”

Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz said there would be no exceptions to the siege without freedom for Israeli hostages.

“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electrical switch will be lifted, no water hydrant will be opened and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli hostages are returned home. Humanitarian for humanitarian. And nobody should preach us morals,” Katz posted on social media platform X.

Israeli attack targets Aleppo, Damascus airports: Syrian state television

Syria’s state television said Israel launched attacks on the main airports in the capital Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo on Thursday.

Local media channel Sham FM said Syrian air defences were launched in response to both attacks. It said there had been damage but no casualties at the Aleppo airport, but did not give any information on the impact of the strike on Damascus Airport.

The Israeli military does not usually comment on such incidents, and there was no immediate statement from it today.

The attacks came a day before Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, was due to visit Syria.

Pakistan condemns ‘indiscriminate, disproportionate’ Israeli force against Palestinians

Pakistan strongly condemned the “indiscriminate and disproportionate” use of force by Israeli authorities against the civilian population in Gaza and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

Foreign Office (FO) Spokesperson Mumtaz Zahrah Baloch said in her weekly press briefing that Pakistan was deeply concerned by the fast deteriorating and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza due to the “inhumane blockade and collective punishment by Israeli forces”.

The FO spokesperson said that the decision to cut off electricity, fuel and water supplies was “unjust and should be reversed as it would severely impact the lives of millions of people in the enclave”.

“The current cycle of aggression and violence is a sad reminder and a direct consequence of over seven decades of illegal foreign occupation, aggression and disrespect for international law, including UNSC resolutions that recognise the inalienable right to self-determination of the Palestinian people,” she added.

The FO spokesperson said Pakistan had been constantly warning against serious consequences of Israel’s “escalatory and provocative actions in recent months”. She said the “unprecedented gravity of the situation demands urgent intervention by the international community”.

Pakistan urged the United Nations to play a proactive role in facilitating a ceasefire to alleviate the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.

“The international community must work in concert for a just comprehensive and lasting two-state solution with a viable, sovereign and contiguous state of Palestine on the basis of pre-1967 borders, with Al Quds Sharif (Jerusalem) as its capital. Peace in the Middle East will remain elusive in the absence of such a solution,” she said.

Blinken tells Netanyahu in Israel: US not going anywhere

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who landed in Tel Aviv today, has reassured Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu of Washington’s support.

Blinken has embarked on a multi-country Middle East tour as Israel unleashes the most powerful bombing campaign in the 75-year history of its conflict with the Palestinians, vowing to annihilate Hamas.

Washington’s top diplomat will also try to help secure the release of hostages kidnapped by Hamas, some thought to be Americans, and advance talks with Israelis and Egyptians on providing a safe passage for Gaza civilians out of the enclave before a possible Israeli ground invasion.

Blinken’s trip also aims to send a deterrence message to Iran, which backs Hamas, to not get involved in the conflict.

An hour after landing in Tel Aviv, Blinken shook hands with Netanyahu and told the prime minister: “We’re here, we’re not going anywhere,” footage from Netanyahu’s office showed.

After Israel, Blinken will head to Jordan to meet with King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He is likely to continue onto other Arab countries, US officials say, without specifying which.

A senior State Department official, speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity, said Washington was working to advance talks on providing a safe passage to civilians, including Americans in Gaza.

“There’s a community of something in the order of 500 to 600 Palestinian Americans, more or less, resident in Gaza. Some of them want to leave…and we are working to organize safe passage,” the official said.

Making sure the conflict does not expand has also been a top priority for Washington and Blinken has been speaking with regional allies, which speak to Iran and Iran-backed groups, to ask them to advise Tehran to keep out.

“We’re very intent on demonstrating … that we’re committed to keeping other parties out of this conflict,” the official said.

Speaking to Jewish community leaders in Washington on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden said the deployment of US warships and aircraft closer to Israel should be seen as a signal to Iran, which has denounced US interference in the region.

“We made it clear to the Iranians: Be careful,” Biden said.

Over 1,200 killed, 338,000 displaced in Gaza

The United Nations said more than 338,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the Gaza Strip.

“Mass displacement across the Gaza Strip continues,” the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said in a statement.

By late Wednesday, the number of displaced people in Gaza had risen by an additional 75,000 people from the figure given 24 hours earlier, reaching 338,934, it said.

Gaza authorities said more than 1,400 Palestinians have been killed and more than 6,000 have been wounded.

A Palestinian woman covered in dust and dirt carries a child, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues for the sixth consecutive day in Gaza City on October 12. — AFP
A Palestinian woman covered in dust and dirt carries a child, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues for the sixth consecutive day in Gaza City on October 12. — AFP

OCHA said nearly 220,000 people, or two-thirds of the displaced people, have sought shelter in schools run by the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

Another nearly 15,000 people fled to schools run by the Palestinian Authority, while more than 100,000 were being sheltered by relatives, neighbours and a church and other facilities in Gaza City.

OCHA said that around 3,000 people had already been displaced within the enclave prior to Saturday’s attack.

The bombing campaign has destroyed or rendered uninhabitable at least 2,540 housing units in Gaza, OCHA said, citing numbers from the Gaza Ministry of Public Works and Housing.

Another 22,850 housing units sustained moderate to minor damage, it said.

The UN agency also voiced alarm at the significant destruction of civilian infrastructure damaged in the shelling.

Among other things, it said sewage facilities serving more than a million people had been hit by air strikes, leaving solid waste accumulating in the streets, posing a health threat.

Separately, UNRWA said that 12 colleagues had been killed in Gaza since October 7. “UN staff and civilians must be protected at all times,” it said in a post on social media platform X (formerly Twitter).

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 11 health workers had been killed over the course of their duties in Gaza, including nine paramedics, a doctor and a member of auxiliary health staff.

3 Chinese nationals killed

Beijing’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that three Chinese nationals have been killed in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

“To my understanding it has currently been confirmed that three Chinese nationals were unfortunately killed in the conflict,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters.

In addition, he said, “Two people are uncontactable and a number were injured”.

“We express our deepest condolences for the dead, and express our sincere sympathies for the families of the dead and for those who were injured,” Wang said.

“China’s relevant diplomatic organisations abroad are currently engaging in all-out efforts to coordinate the rescue and treatment of those injured, and making arrangements for those who died,” he added.

“We urge external parties to put full effort into searching for and rescuing the uncontactable people, and take all effective measures to safeguard the safety of Chinese personnel and organisations,” Wang said.

Smoke plumes billow during Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on October 12. — AFP
Smoke plumes billow during Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on October 12. — AFP

Saudi prince, Iran president hold call

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and Iran’s president spoke by phone about the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Saudi state media said early on Thursday, their first call since a surprise rapprochement in March.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman received a call on Wednesday from the Iranian leader, Ebrahim Raisi, during which they discussed “the current military situation in Gaza and its environs”, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

Prince Mohammed told Raisi that Riyadh is “communicating with all international and regional parties to stop the ongoing escalation”, SPA said. He also stressed “the kingdom’s firm position towards supporting the Palestinian cause”, it said.

Iranian state news agency IRNA also reported on the call, saying the two men discussed the “need to end war crimes against Palestine”.

Prince Mohammed also spoke by phone on Wednesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during which the 38-year-old Saudi leader said he was “exerting unremitting efforts through regional and international communication to achieve coordination that pushes for a halt of the current escalation”.

Iran calls on Islamic, Arab countries to confront Israel

Raisi has called on Islamic and Arab countries to cooperate in confronting Israel as it wages a deadly war triggered by Hamas’ surprise move last week.

“Today, all the Islamic and Arab countries and all the free people of the world must reach a serious convergence and cooperation in the path of stopping the crimes of the Zionist regime against the oppressed Palestinian nation,” Raisi told his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in a phone call late Wednesday.

Raisi stated that in order to stop the “genocide of the Palestinians by the Zionists”, Iran will coordinate with Islamic countries “as soon as possible”, the Iranian presidency website said on Thursday.

Iran on Saturday celebrated the offensive in Israel, though it insisted it was not involved in it.

During his call with Assad, Raisi also lashed out at Arab countries that have recently normalised or are in discussion to establish ties with Israel.

“Today, all those who made public their relations with the Zionist regime under the pretext of defending the rights of the Palestinians were disgraced, and it has been proven to the whole world that the Zionist regime is in its weakest state,” Raisi said.

During the call, Assad similarly emphasised the “necessity of rapid action at the Arab and Islamic levels to protect the Palestinian people, especially in the Gaza Strip, and to stop the Israeli raids targeting children and women”.

Brazil calls UN Security Council meeting

Brazil, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council (UNSC), called a Friday meeting of the body to discuss the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, its foreign affairs ministry said.

Brazilian Foreign Affairs Minister Mauro Vieira has interrupted an Asia trip to travel “to New York to participate in a meeting of the United Nations Security Council, called by Brazil… to address the situation in the Gaza Strip,” the ministry said in a statement.

Brazil previously called an emergency meeting of the Security Council on Sunday, the day after Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel. At Sunday’s Security Council meeting, members were divided over policy concerning Israel and the Palestinians.

Earlier on Wednesday, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called for urgent international action to protect both Palestinian and Israeli civilians, especially children.

“Children must never be held hostage, anywhere in the world,” Lula wrote on social media platform X.

“Hamas needs to free the Israeli children who were kidnapped from their families. Israel needs to stop its bombing so Palestinian children and their mothers can leave the Gaza Strip via the Egyptian border,” he said.

“There needs to be a minimum of humanity in the insanity of war,” he said.

Nato urges Israel to respond with ‘proportionality’ in Gaza

Nato countries told Israel’s defence minister they stood by his country after the offensive by Hamas, but urged his forces to respond with “proportionality”, the alliance said.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant briefed his counterparts from the US-led military alliance via video link as his country’s military carries out a bombing campaign.

“Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Nato condemned the terrorist attacks in the strongest possible terms, adding: ‘Israel does not stand alone’,” Nato said in a statement.

“Allies expressed solidarity with Israel, making clear that it has the right to defend itself with proportionality against these unjustifiable acts of terror.”

Nato countries “called for Hamas to immediately release all hostages, and for the fullest possible protection of civilians. Allies also made clear that no nation or organisation should seek to take advantage of the situation or to escalate it.”

The statement added that “a number of Nato allies made clear that they are providing practical support to Israel as it continues to respond to the situation”.

British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps insisted on Thursday that Israel was “going after the terrorists” in Gaza. “They are not by design attacking civilians,” he told journalists at NATO headquarters. “That’s a very, very important, critical difference that I think the whole world needs to understand. “

Rockets fired at Tel Aviv after Israeli strikes

Hamas fighters on Thursday fired a barrage of rockets at Tel Aviv in response to Israeli air strikes that targeted civilians in two Gaza refugee camps, the Palestinian group said.

“Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades fired rockets at Tel Aviv in response to (Israeli strikes) targeting civilians in Al-Shati and Jabalia camps,” Hamas said, referring to its armed wing, in a text message sent to journalists.

A view shows the ruins of Palestinian houses hit by Israeli strikes at Al-Shati (Beach) refugee camp, in Gaza City on October 12. — Reuters
A view shows the ruins of Palestinian houses hit by Israeli strikes at Al-Shati (Beach) refugee camp, in Gaza City on October 12. — Reuters

AFP correspondents witnessed dozens of air strikes over 30 minutes on Thursday morning in the direction of Al-Shati camp and in the blockaded strip’s north.

“The occupation (Israeli forces) committed massacres this morning in Al-Shati camp and Jabalia camp, leaving dozens of martyrs and injured,” Iyad al-Buzum, spokesman for the Hamas interior ministry, told AFP.

AFP journalists saw at least seven dead bodies and six buildings destroyed in Al-Shati camp.

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