| Palestinians grieve over the bodies of loved ones killed in Israeli bombardment of an encampment for displaced people in al Mawasi an area of Khan Younis in southern Gaza 25 January Mohammed Talatene DPA | MR Online Palestinians grieve over the bodies of loved ones killed in Israeli bombardment of an encampment for displaced people in al-Mawasi, an area of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, 25 January. (Photo: Mohammed Talatene DPA)

Israeli fire kills Palestinians waiting for food aid and at UN shelter

Originally published: The Electronic Intifada on January 25, 2024 by Maureen Clare Murphy (more by The Electronic Intifada)  | (Posted Jan 27, 2024)

Israeli ground forces were besieging the vicinities of two hospitals in southern Gaza on Thursday after ordering the evacuation of those areas days earlier, affecting around half a million people.

Twenty Palestinians were reported killed and another 150 injured after they were fired on by Israeli troops while awaiting the delivery of food aid in Gaza City on Thursday.

Israel has denied UN humanitarian agencies access to the hundreds of thousands of increasingly starving Palestinians who remain in northern Gaza, including Gaza City.

“The food situation in the north is absolutely horrific. There’s almost no food available and everybody we talk to begs for food,” Sean Casey, a World Health Organization coordinator, told media.

The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor condemned the “horrific crime” against Palestinians waiting for humanitarian aid in Gaza City. It said it documented a similar incident on Monday, when civilians gathered southeast of Gaza City were “targeted by Israeli artillery shells as they waited for UN relief trucks, resulting in several casualties.”

Earlier this month, quadcopter drones opened fire on civilians waiting to receive flour from UN trucks in western Gaza City, killing 50 and injuring “numerous others,” Euro-Med said.

The organization accused Israel of deliberately creating an unsafe and chaotic environment to obstruct the delivery of humanitarian aid as it uses starvation as a weapon of war.

The systematic dismantling of Gaza’s health facilities is another key strategy of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

A senior UN official said on Thursday that fighting around hospitals and shelters hosting displaced people in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, had intensified.

“Heavy fighting near the remaining hospitals in Khan Younis, including Nasser and al-Amal, has effectively encircled these facilities, leaving terrified staff, patients and displaced people trapped inside,” deputy humanitarian coordinator Thomas White said.

“Al-Khair hospital has shut down after patients, including women who had just undergone C-section surgeries, were evacuated in the middle of the night,” the UN official added.

“Thousands of preventable deaths”

Medical Aid for Palestinians, a UK charity, said that the hospitals affected by Israel’s latest evacuation orders “represent 20 percent of the remaining hospital capacity in the whole of Gaza.”

The charity called for the protection of hospitals after “world leaders stood idly by as Israeli forces dismantled the health system in the north of Gaza.”

“Now we fear the same will be repeated in the south,” MAP added.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said that Gaza is “at risk of complete medical shutdown without urgent action to preserve services,” particularly at Nasser Medical Complex and the European Gaza Hospital, both located in the south.

If those facilities cease to function, the ICRC said,

the world will bear witness to untold thousands of preventable deaths.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs similarly warned that without a cessation of hostilities and the protection of humanitarian workers,

preventable deaths, including of many women and children, will continue to wreak havoc on the already devastated population of Gaza.

UN shelter hit by tank shells

The UN said that 12 people were killed and 75 injured, 15 critically, after two tank rounds hit a training center compound that is being used as a shelter for nearly 30,000 displaced people on Wednesday.

Some 800 people were in the building that was struck within the training center compound. Video shows flames filling the top story of the building that was hit while black smoke billows out and gunfire is heard in the background.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), said that the compound “is a clearly marked UN facility and its coordinates were shared with Israeli authorities.”

He said that the strike was “a blatant disregard of basic rules of war.”

Israel’s military denied responsibility for hitting the facility and suggested that Hamas was responsible.

White, the humanitarian coordinator, said that it was the third direct hit on the Khan Younis compound and added that “buildings flying the UN flag have been hit at least twice by tank fire, without warning.”

The Biden administration in Washington expressed what Reuters described as “rare outright condemnation,” with State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel stating on Wednesday that “we deplore today’s attack on the Khan Younis training center.”

Patel added that “civilians must be protected, and the protected nature of UN facilities must be respected.”

A White House national security spokesperson said that the Biden administration would “continue to seek further information” regarding the strikes on the UNRWA facility. But the spokesperson implicitly blamed Hamas for civilian deaths, accusing them of hiding among the general population.

The Biden administration has repeatedly claimed that Israeli forces are not deliberately trying to kill civilians, despite an astonishing 25,700 fatalities in Gaza since 7 October, the vast majority of them women and children.

When confronted with evidence to the contrary, Biden’s spokespersons have declined to say whether those were instances of war crimes.

On Wednesday, Robert Moore, a senior correspondent with the UK’s ITV News, asked Patel, the State Department spokesperson, about whether the fatal shooting of a civilian carrying a white flag in a Gaza “safe zone” on Monday constituted a war crime.

That incident was recorded on video by an ITV News cameraman who had interviewed the slain man, clothing merchant Ramzi Abu Sahloul, moments before he was shot in the chest and killed in al-Mawasi, an area of Khan Younis that Israel had declared a “safe zone.”

The U.S. network NBC obtained additional footage from Palestinian cameraman Ahmed Hijazi showing the incident from other angles. Hijazi said that the fire “came from one of several nearby Israeli tanks,” NBC reported.

Patel declined to say whether the apparent field execution was a war crime, saying that “this is not an American operation” and that “we do not have full circumstances” of the incident.

Rishi Sunak, the British prime minister, also refused to say whether the videotaped killing of the civilian carrying a white flag was a war crime, issuing only general concern about “the significant impact and loss of life of civilians in Gaza.”

Palestinians in Gaza have repeatedly testified that Israeli forces are gunning down civilians who pose no threat.

Brothers Ramiz, 20, and Nahed Barbakh, 13, were reported killed in Khan Younis on Thursday. An image shows the brothers’ bodies in the street next to their white flag.

In November, a bystander recorded the apparent execution of Hala Rashid Abd al-Ati while she was holding hands with her young grandson, who was waving a white flag, as they and other family members attempted to flee from Gaza City.

In December, the military killed three young men who were captured during Hamas’ 7 October raid and held in Gaza. The Israeli nationals were shirtless and one was holding a white flag when they were executed by troops in Shujaiya, east of Gaza City.

Sarah Leah Whitson, the director of the Washington-based human rights watchdog DAWN, said that it was hardly the first time that the Israeli military had gunned down civilians in Gaza waving white flags.

“Literally every single Israeli policy we have criticized for [the] past 20 years as a violation of international humanitarian law is many magnitudes worse today,” she added.

This is what impunity begets.

ICJ to deliver decision on provisional measures

That impunity has been dealt an unprecedented challenge after South Africa invoked the 1948 Genocide Convention against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

That tribunal is set to deliver a decision on Friday regarding South Africa’s request for provisional measures—similar to an injunction or restraining order—that could include a cessation of hostilities in Gaza while it considers the full case.

On Thursday, Patel, the State Department spokesperson, declined to say whether the U.S. would respect the International Court of Justice’s ruling.

Meanwhile, Biden and his secretaries of state and defense are being sued for their failure to prevent what the plaintiffs say is a genocide unfolding in Gaza, and for their complicity in the genocide.

A federal court in California will be hearing the case on Friday.

Sixteen humanitarian and human rights groups on Wednesday called on UN member states to immediately halt the transfer of weapons to Israel and Palestinian armed groups.

The UN’s human rights office warned on Wednesday that “further intensification of already relentless Israeli airstrikes and ground fighting” in Khan Younis in recent days “has exacerbated dangers for civilians.”

The UN office noted the 21 January statement by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant promising that “the mushrooms of smoke will cover the skies of the Gaza Strip until we achieve our goals.”

Israeli military operations in Khan Younis have pushed an increasing number of Palestinians, many of them already displaced, to Rafah, in southernmost Gaza, where half of the territory’s population of 2.3 million people are now concentrated, many of them without adequate shelter.

The UN human rights office raised “grave alarm” over a potential escalation of hostilities in Rafah “with the attendant risk that people who are essentially trapped in smaller and smaller areas may be forced out of Gaza.”

Monthly Review does not necessarily adhere to all of the views conveyed in articles republished at MR Online. Our goal is to share a variety of left perspectives that we think our readers will find interesting or useful. —Eds.