UN law expert denounces Israel's 'illegal' blocking of aid to Gaza

Francesca Albanese said Israel has a duty under international law to protect Palestinian civilians

People search for victims and survivors after an Israeli strike on the town of Deir Al Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on October 18.  AFP
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An independent UN expert on international law said Israel's air strikes and tightened blockade on the Gaza Strip during the continuing Israel-Gaza war could amount to a crime against humanity.

At a briefing in Washington on Wednesday, Francesca Albanese, the UN's special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian Territories, said Israel's move to bar the entry of water, food, medicine and fuel into the Gaza Strip since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 is a serious breach of international law.

“Israel has tightened the blockade by not allowing entry of water, food and electricity – adding another layer of illegality," Ms Albanese said.

“The blockade was already a war crime and now this could amount to intentional starvation, which is a crime against humanity.”

The assessment came as US President Joe Biden visited Israel, where he offered strong support for the ally, but also called for humanitarian aid to enter the besieged enclave.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country would not allow aid to enter through its crossing with Gaza, but would not block supplies from entering through Egypt.

It was not clear when aid would begin entering through the Rafah crossing, in the south of the Gaza Strip.

About 2.3 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, a tiny enclave that has been under an Israeli and Egyptian land, air and sea blockade since 2007, when Hamas took over the territory.

Israel has ordered the northern Gaza Strip, home to 1.1 million people, to evacuate to the south before an anticipated ground invasion aimed at destroying Hamas.

The UN has condemned the order, saying it breaches international law.

“You cannot give this order, first of all because the south has already been bombed and there are no places where people can find safety or shelter," Ms Albanese said.

"And second, there are elderly and children, and hospitals. Where would they go?”

Mr Biden's trip was upended after a missile struck a hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday, killing hundreds of Palestinians, among them many children.

Hamas and Arab nations blamed Israel, while Israel blamed the strike on an errant rocket fired by Islamic Jihad militants.

Mr Biden has supported Israel's claim, blaming the explosion on “the other team".

He also has not denounced the civilian death toll in Gaza, which has so far exceeded 3,400 people. Many more are missing and feared dead under rubble.

But Mr Biden announced $100 million from the US in humanitarian assistance for Gaza and the occupied West Bank, adding that the Red Cross and Red Crescent must be allowed access.

Hamas's October 7 attack on parts of southern Israel killed more than 1,300 people. Militants also took about 200 people hostage.

Ms Albanese said that under international law, Hamas is likely to have committed war crimes. But Israel's response has passed its claim to self-defence and the principle of proportionality.

She said Israel has launched more than 6,000 bombs on Gaza – one of the most densely populated areas on Earth – killing at least 1,000 children and destroying about 80,000 homes and buildings.

“What kind of proportional response is this?” Ms Albanese said.

“Each military action, each bomb needs to be proportionate and it needs to distinguish between civilian and military targets, and it needs to be respectful of the principle of precaution.”

Updated: October 19, 2023, 4:34 AM