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UN experts say ceasefire needed as Palestinians at ‘grave risk of genocide’

people mourn during a funeral for palestinians killed by israeli strikes, in khan younis
People mourn during a funeral for Palestinians killed by Israeli strikes, as the conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas continues, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, October 26, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

United Nations experts called on Thursday for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, saying time was running out for Palestinian people there who find themselves at “grave risk of genocide”.

Nearly four weeks of Israeli bombardment against the Gaza Strip in retaliation for attacks by Hamas gunmen in southern Israel on October 7 have killed more than 9,000 people, made up of a majority of women and children, health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say. Israel says it is aiming its attacks at Hamas, not civilians, and accuses the group of using them as shields.

“We remain convinced that the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide,” the group of experts, made up of seven UN special rapporteurs, said in a statement.

“We demand a humanitarian ceasefire to ensure that aid reaches those who need it the most.”

The Israeli mission to the UN in Geneva said it was preparing a response to the experts’ remarks.

The International Criminal Court defines the crime of genocide as the specific intent to destroy in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group by killing its members or by other means, including imposing measures intended to prevent births or forcibly transferring children from one group to another.

On October 28, departing senior UN human rights official Craig Mokhiber wrote to the High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, saying “we are seeing a genocide unfolding before our eyes, and the Organization that we serve appears powerless to stop it.”

The UN rights office said that Mokhiber’s planned retirement took effect this week and that his views were “personal” and did not reflect those of the office.

Speaking to Reuters after the experts’ statement was issued, one of its signatories said the people of Gaza had been deprived of the “the most basic elements for living.”

“We are using the term risk of genocide because the process that is (underway) is absolutely indiscriminate, affecting, in this case, more than 2 million people,” said Pedro Arrojo Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.

“And in this sense, I think we are facing a risk of genocide, effectively.”

Aid supplies to Gaza have been choked since Israel began bombarding the densely populated enclave, with aid organisations saying it is nowhere near matching the needs of the people there.

“The situation in Gaza has reached a catastrophic tipping point,” the UN experts said, adding that Gazans had been left with scarce water, medicine, fuel and essential supplies while facing health hazards.

The experts also pointed to Israel allies, which they said “bear responsibility and must act now to prevent its disastrous course of action.”

“We call on Israel and its allies to agree to an immediate ceasefire,” the UN experts said. “We are running out of time.”

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