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Israel committed crime of 'extermination' in Gaza, says UN investigation

Commission accuses Israel and Hamas of both engaging in acts of torture and sexual violence
A father holds the hand of his injured child in al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, 9 June (Reuters/Doaa Rouqa)
A father holds the hand of his injured child in al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, 9 June (Reuters/Doaa Rouqa)

Israel is guilty of a committing the crime of "extermination" in Gaza, as well as the crimes of sexual violence, torture, and starvation as a weapon of war, along with other war crimes and crimes against humanity, UN investigators have found.

The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel also said Palestinian groups were guilty of war crimes, particularly over the taking of hostages.

The report covers the period between the 7 October Hamas-led attack on Israeli communities and 31 December. During those 12 weeks Israel began a ferocious war on the Gaza Strip that has now killed more than 37,000 people.

Among the war crimes that the COI said Israel was guilty of since 7 October were:

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  • Extermination

  • Gender persecution targeting Palestinian men and boys

  • Murder

  • Forcible transfer

  • Torture

  • Inhuman and cruel treatment

It also found that Israeli security forces had enforced "public stripping and nudity intended to humiliate the community at large and accentuate the subordination of an occupied people."

“It is imperative that all those who have committed crimes be held accountable,” said Navi Pillay, chair of the commission.

“The only way to stop the recurring cycles of violence, including aggression and retribution by both sides, is to ensure strict adherence to international law.”

Pillay said Israel must "immediately stop its military operations and attacks in Gaza, including the assault on Rafah".

The report also found widespread abuses by Palestinian armed groups, including torture, hostage-taking and acts of gender-based and sexual violence against civilians and security personnel.

"Hamas and Palestinian armed groups must immediately cease rocket attacks and release all hostages," said Pillay.

"The taking of hostages constitutes a war crime."

Israel does not cooperate with the commission, which it says has an anti-Israel bias.

The COI says Israel obstructs its work and prevented investigators from accessing both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel condemned the report and accused the commission of "systematic anti-Israeli discrimination".

The COI "has once again proven that its actions are all in the service of a narrow-led political agenda against Israel", said Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

Hamas did not immediately comment.

Famine risk

Rights groups have warned that the blocking of aid combined with the destruction of Gaza's infrastructure means there is a high risk of famine.

A new food security report issued last week by an independent group of experts known as the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, or Fews Net, warned that it is possible Gaza has suffered famine since April, and this assessment is likely to continue until July at least, “if there is not a fundamental change in how food assistance is distributed and accessed” after it enters the enclave.

Meanwhile, Israel continues to block the Rafah crossing with Egypt and restrict aid entry via the Kerem Shalom crossing with southern Gaza.

On Tuesday, UN Relief chief Martin Griffiths posted on X that in Gaza “delivering aid has become almost impossible". He called for an immediate reopening of all border crossings, and safe and unimpeded access.

On 29 May, Palestinian NGOs and professional unions declared that the besieged Gaza Strip is now a "famine-stricken zone", at a conference held in Ramallah by Amjad Shawa, director of the Palestinian NGOs Network (PNGO) in central Gaza's Deir al-Balah.

He said the deteriorating situation in Gaza is made worse by the “ruthless, merciless bombardment by the Israeli warplanes”.

The head of Gaza’s media office, Salama Marouf, has also said the threat of famine has returned to northern Gaza as Israel continues to restrict the entry of aid from all crossings.

He added that relief efforts remain well below the minimum needs. 

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