The United Nations human rights office has said Israel’s complete siege of Gaza, combined with the evacuation order, could amount to a forcible transfer of civilians, breaching international law.
Spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said in Geneva on Tuesday that Israel has yet to make any effort to ensure those evacuated were provided with proper accommodation and satisfactory conditions.
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“We are concerned that this order, combined with the imposition of a complete siege of Gaza, may not be considered as lawful temporary evacuation and would therefore amount to a forcible transfer of civilians in breach of international law,” she said.
The forced relocation of civilians is classed as a crime against humanity and is punishable by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“Those who managed to comply with the Israeli authorities’ order to evacuate are now trapped in the south of the Gaza Strip, with scant shelter, fast-depleting food supplies, little or no access to clean water, sanitation, medicine and other basic needs,” Shamdasani said.
On October 12, Israel ordered 1.1 million people in the north of Gaza to evacuate and move south of the enclave.
Shamdasani’s comments come as Israel prepares for a ground offensive in Gaza to retaliate for the October 7 attack on southern Israel by Hamas, the armed group that rules Gaza.
So far, at least 2,800 Palestinians have been killed, and about 11,000 have been injured since Israeli air raids began. The Israeli military said some 1,400 people have been killed in Israel since October 7.
The World Food Programme (WFP) said in separate comments that its food supplies in the besieged enclave were running low, but it was stockpiling supplies in the Egyptian city of El Arish.
WFP’s regional communication lead for the Middle East and North Africa, Abeera Etefa, said the UN body hoped the aid trucks “to cross as soon as the border access is granted”.
“We call for unimpeded access, safe passage to desperately needed humanitarian supplies to Gaza,” she said.
Crucial food and aid trucks have been heading to the Rafah crossing on the Egypt border, but it remains uncertain whether the supplies can cross into southern Gaza.
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization also said it needs urgent access to Gaza to deliver aid and medical supplies as it warned of a long-term humanitarian crisis.
According to the UN Palestinian agency, UNRWA, fuel reserves at all hospitals across Gaza are expected to last for only 24 hours.
“The shutdown of backup generators would place the lives of thousands of patients at serious risk,” it said.