United Nations experts called on Thursday for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, saying that time was running out for Palestinian people there who find themselves at “grave risk of genocide” amid relentless Israeli airstrikes and ground assault.
The death toll from nearly four weeks of Israeli bombardment against the Gaza Strip in retaliation for deadly attacks by Hamas fighters in southern Israel on October 7, topped 9,000 people – a majority of whom were women and children, health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave said.
“We remain convinced that the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide,” the group of experts, made up of seven UN special rapporteurs, said in a statement. “We demand a humanitarian ceasefire to ensure that aid reaches those who need it the most.”
The Israeli mission to the UN in Geneva called the comments “deplorable and deeply concerning” and blamed Hamas for civilian deaths. “The current war was brought upon Israel by Hamas who committed a massacre on October 7, butchering 1,400 people and kidnapping 243 children, men and women,” it said.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) defines genocide as specific intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group by killing its members or by other means, including imposing measures intended to prevent births or forcibly transferring children from one group to another.
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Last week, departing senior UN human rights official Craig Mokhiber wrote to the High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, saying “we are seeing a genocide unfolding before our eyes, and the Organization that we serve appears powerless to stop it.”
Speaking to Reuters after the experts’ statement was issued, Pedro Arrojo Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation said the people of Gaza had been deprived of “the most basic elements for living.”
“We are using the term risk of genocide because the process that is [under way] is absolutely indiscriminate, affecting, in this case, more than 2 million people,” said Agudo, one of the signatories. “And in this sense, I think we are facing a risk of genocide, effectively.”
Aid supplies to Gaza have been choked since Israel began bombarding the densely populated enclave, with aid organisations saying it is nowhere near matching the needs of the people there. “The situation in Gaza has reached a catastrophic tipping point,” the UN experts said.
They added that Gazans had been left with scarce water, medicine, fuel and essential supplies while facing health hazards. They also pointed to Israel allies, which they said “bear responsibility and must act now to prevent its disastrous course of action”.
“We call on Israel and its allies to agree to an immediate ceasefire,” the UN experts said. “We are running out of time.”