UN human rights chief casts doubt on Israeli moves to protect Gaza civilians

Volker Turk says Israel is also obliged to protect West Bank residents as violence rises in the occupied territory

Israeli air strikes have destroyed buildings and roads across the Gaza Strip. AFP
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Nowhere in Gaza is safe, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said on Friday, casting doubt on Israeli arrangements to protect civilians as its military ferociously goes after Hamas.

Mr Turk said Israel also has an obligation to protect civilians in the occupied West Bank, where dozens of people have been killed in mounting violence over the past five weeks.

“At the moment nowhere in Gaza is safe. Bombardment is being reported in all parts of the strip,” Mr Turk told reporters in Jordan, the second stop in a regional trip that started with Egypt.

He said Israel's demands for civilians to relocate to areas in southern Gaza designated as safe by its military were “very alarming”.

Gazans flee north on foot as Israeli attacks continue

Gazans flee north on foot as Israeli attacks continue

An Israeli military spokesman said this week that there had been a “sizeable response” to the safe passages created for civilians to move to the south of the Palestinian enclave, closer to the border with Egypt.

“So-called safe zones, when established unilaterally, can heighten risk to civilians and raise a real question whether security can be guaranteed in practice,” Mr Turk said.

The priority should be “to agree on a ceasefire on the basis of human rights imperatives”, he said, describing the situation in Gaza as “nightmarish”.

Mr Turk heads the Geneva-based Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The organisation says it has an international mandate “to promote and protect all human rights”.

This week in Cairo, he met Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and visited the Rafah border crossing with Gaza where humanitarian aid is being sent into the besieged territory while foreigners and injured Gazans are being allowed out. He visited a hospital in the area where wounded Palestinian children were receiving treatment.

With Palestinian casualties mounting from Israel's continuing bombardment as its forces circle Gaza city, Egypt and Jordan have warned of the war spreading to the West Bank, which borders Jordan and is administered by the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas.

Fourteen people were killed in an Israeli raid on Jenin refugee camp on Thursday. It was the bloodiest day in the West Bank in months, and the latest Israeli army incursion into the tightly packed camp.

Israel confirmed it killed at least 10 West Bank militants in a drone strike, a once-rare tactic that is being used increasingly in the area.

Mr Turk said Israel must take “immediate measures to ensure the protection of civilians”, as Israeli attacks on West Bank targets continue on “daily basis”.

He said at least 176 Palestinians had been killed in West Bank violence since the beginning of October.

He appealed to Israel “to ensure the protection of Palestinians in the West Bank, who are being on a daily basis subjected to violence from Israeli forces and settlers, ill treatment, arrests, evictions, intimidation and humiliation”.

Updated: November 10, 2023, 11:24 AM