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Gaza siege ‘prohibited’ under international law: UN

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GENEVA: Israel’s total siege of the Gaza Strip, depriving civilians of goods essential for survival, is banned under international law, the United Nations human rights chief said on Tuesday.

Volker Turk called for all sides instead to defuse the “explosive powder-keg situation”, as Israel warned of a sustained war to destroy the Palestinian group Hamas.

“We know from bitter experience that vengeance is not the answer, and ultimately innocent civilians pay the price,” Turk said.

Hamas, which abducted about 150 people in its surprise weekend attack on Israel, threatened to execute the hostages if Israeli air strikes continue “targeting” Gaza residents without warning.The threat came after Israel on Monday imposed a total siege on the Gaza Strip, cutting off food, water and electricity supplies.

“The imposition of sieges that endanger the lives of civilians by depriving them of goods essential for their survival is prohibited under international humanitarian law,” Turk said in a statement.The siege risks seriously compounding the already dire human rights and humanitarian situation in Gaza, the statement said.

Any restrictions on the movement of people and goods to implement a siege must be justified by military necessity or may otherwise amount to collective punishment, it added.Turk called on influential countries to try to de-escalate the situation.He urged Palestinian armed groups to release all captured civilians immediately and unconditionally, with hostage-taking being prohibited by international law.

In response, Israel’s mission in Geneva said Turk “does not mention who lit” the powder keg he described, and criticised him for not condemning Hamas attacks.Meanwhile the ongoing UN investigation into alleged human rights violations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict said there was “already clear evidence that war crimes may have been committed” since Saturday’s surprise Hamas attack.

“All those who have violated international law and targeted civilians must be held accountable for their crimes,” said the Commission of Inquiry.The COI, the highest-level investigation that can be ordered by the UN Human Rights Council, was set up in May 2021 to investigate all alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.The independent commission said it had been “collecting and preserving evidence of war crimes committed by all sides” in the current conflict. — AFP

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