As more bodies found, UN’s Turk ‘horrified’ by Gaza mass graves reports

UN human rights chief calls for independent and transparent inquiry after Palestinian authorities uncover hundreds of bodies at hospital.

Volker Turk, the United Nations human rights chief, has said he is “horrified” by the destruction of Nasser Medical Complex and al-Shifa Hospital in the Gaza Strip and reports of mass graves found in and around the hospitals amid Israel’s war on Gaza.

In a statement released on Tuesday, Turk called for independent and transparent investigations after Palestinian authorities said this week they had recovered hundreds of bodies at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis following the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the southern city earlier this month.

“Given the prevailing climate of impunity, this should include international investigators,” Turk said, noting that hospitals are entitled to special protection under international humanitarian law and called “the intentional killing” of civilians and detainees a war crime.

As search operations continued on Tuesday, civil defence crews said they had recovered at least 17 more bodies, bringing the total so far to 310.

Reporting from the nearby city of Rafah, Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud said the bodies that were being retrieved included those of children, women, medical staff, wounded people and patients, according to Gaza’s Civil Defence.

He added that medical staff and evacuees who had managed to leave the hospital before the Israeli army’s withdrawal had described scenes of “horror, mass killings and arrests to the point the entire hospital turned from a place of healing into a massive graveyard”.

The Israeli army in a statement on Tuesday said the claim that it buried Palestinian bodies was “baseless and unfounded”.

It said that during its operation in the area of Nasser Hospital, corpses buried by Palestinians in the area “were examined” in accordance “to the effort to locate hostages and missing persons”.

“The examination was conducted in a carful manner and exclusively in places where intelligence indicated the possible presence of hostages,” it added, saying that that the examined bodies which did not belong to Israeli captives “were returned to their place”.

Zainah Haroun, a spokesperson for Al-Haq, an independent Palestinian rights organisation based in the occupied West Bank, said what was needed was “a proper investigative mechanism” to be given full and unrestricted access to the Gaza Strip as a whole, including the sites where mass graves have been uncovered.

“Most of the information that we’re getting at the moment is from incredibly brave Palestinian journalists who are reporting these horrific
atrocities on the ground and are also being targeted by Israel,” she told Al Jazeera.

At least 34,183 Palestinians, including more than 14,500 children, have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7, when Hamas led a surprise assault inside Israel, killing more than 1,130 people.

The death toll announced on Tuesday by the Ministry of Health in Gaza included at least 32 people killed in the past 24 hours. Another 77,143 have been wounded, while more than 7,000 others are assumed to be under the rubble due to a ferocious Israeli campaign that has levelled most of Gaza.

Turk, in his statement, condemned a series of Israeli strikes on Rafah in the past few days that killed mostly children and women, repeating his warning against a full-scale incursion on the overcrowded area of 64sq km (25sq miles), where more than 1.4 million Palestinians have been forcibly cornered.

“Every 10 minutes, a child is killed or wounded. They are protected under the laws of war, and yet they are ones who are disproportionately paying the ultimate price in this war,” Turk said.

“The latest images of a premature child taken from the womb of her dying mother, of the adjacent two houses where 15 children and five women were killed – this is beyond warfare,” he added.

At the same time, Turk criticised grave human rights violations that persist in the occupied West Bank despite international condemnation of increasing attacks by settlers, often in the presence of Israeli forces.


Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies