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Graves in Gaza may indicate Israeli war crimes, says UN

26 April 2024


A Palestinian woman inspects a house in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Wednesday, after it was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, killing three people and wounding several more

A Palestinian woman inspects a house in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Wednesday, after it was destroyed by an Israeli air strike, killing three people a...

“DISTURBING” reports of mass graves in Gaza, in which Palestinian victims are said to have been found naked with their hands tied, has renewed the possibility of war crimes amid ongoing Israeli air strikes, the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) has said.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, reported that hundreds of bodies “buried deep in the ground and covered with waste” were discovered over the weekend at Nasser Hospital, in Khan Younis, central Gaza, and also at Al-Shifa Hospital, in Gaza City to the north. A total of 283 bodies were recovered at Nasser, of which 42 were identified.

“Among the deceased were allegedly older people, women, and wounded, while others were found tied with their hands . . . tied and stripped of their clothes,” Ms Shamdasani said.

More bodies had been found at Al-Shifa Hospital, which was the focus, last month, of an Israeli military incursion to turn out Hamas militants who were allegedly operating there. UN humanitarians later report that Al-Shifa was “an empty shell”; most equipment had been reduced to ashes.

About 200 days since intense Israeli bombardment began in response to Hamas-led terror attacks in southern Israel on 7 October, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, posted on X/Twitter: “The intentional killing of civilians, detainees and others who are hors de combat is a war crime.” He has called for an investigation.

Israeli strikes intensified in Gaza on Tuesday. Three members of a family in Rafah were killed after a strike on their home, Al Jazeera reported.

Concern about an escalation of the conflict in the Middle East has been growing since a strike on Iranian territory early last Friday morning. Israel did not accept responsibility, but US officials said that an Israeli missile was responsible for damage in the city of Isfahan, in the centre of Iran.

Church figures, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, have previously urged restraint on both sides, as tensions mount between Iran and its proxies, and Israel (News, 17 April).

On Tuesday, at Lambeth Palace, Archbishop Welby met and prayed with Fr Gabriel Romanelli, of the Church of the Holy Family in Gaza City. Gaza’s only Roman Catholic parish priest, Fr Romanelli was in Bethlehem buying medicine on 7 October, and has not been able to return to Gaza since the war broke out.

The Archbishop and Fr Romanelli, with Canon Mark Madden from the Archdiocese of Liverpool, met privately before evening prayer in the Crypt Chapel. During the service, the Archbishop anointed Fr Romanelli with chrism oil. Fr Romanelli gave the blessing.

Archbishop Welby said on Wednesday that Fr Romanelli’s church was “a beacon” in the region. He said: “Its ministry looks after the poor, the sick, young people with special needs, and elderly people in need of care. This work has been made immeasurably harder by a war that has decimated infrastructure essential to human survival. Meanwhile, the scarcity of humanitarian access to and within the Strip continues to prevent aid workers from distributing life-saving supplies.

“As I have said before and repeat again: international humanitarian law is resolutely clear that all parties to a conflict must allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need. This is especially true for Israel as the Occupying Power.”

He continued to pray for an immediate ceasefire, the release of hostages, and unimpeded aid access.

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