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UN experts condemn ‘flour massacre’, urge Israel to end campaign of starvation in Gaza

05 March 2024

UN experts* today condemned the violence unleashed by Israeli forces, which killed at least 112 people gathered to collect flour in Gaza last week, as a “massacre” amid conditions of inevitable starvation and destruction of the local food production system in the besieged Palestinian enclave.

“Israel has been intentionally starving the Palestinian people in Gaza since 8 October. Now it is targeting civilians seeking humanitarian aid and humanitarian convoys,” the UN experts said. “Israel must end its campaign of starvation and targeting of civilians.”

Israeli troops fired on crowds of Palestinians gathered to collect flour in the south-west of Gaza City on 29 February, killing at least 112 people and injuring some 760.

“The attack came after Israel has denied humanitarian aid into Gaza City and northern Gaza for more than a month,” the experts said.

They noted that the 29 February massacre followed a pattern of Israeli attacks against Palestinian civilians seeking aid, with over 14 recorded incidents of shooting, shelling and targeting groups gathered to receive urgently needed supplies from trucks or airdrops between mid-January and the end of February 2024.

“Israel has also opened fire on humanitarian aid convoys on several occasions, despite the fact that the convoys shared their coordinates with Israel,” the experts said.

On 26 January, the International Court of Justice recognised the plausibility of Israel committing genocide and ordered it to allow the delivery of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In January, before the Court’s decision, an average of 147 trucks entered Gaza every day. Since the ruling was issued, only 57 trucks have entered Gaza between 9 and 21 February 2024.

“Israel is not respecting its international legal obligations, is not complying with the provisional measures of the International Court of Justice, and is committing atrocity crimes,” the experts said.

“Israel systematically denies and restricts the entry of humanitarian aid into Gaza by intercepting deliveries at checkpoints, bombing humanitarian convoys and shooting at civilians seeking humanitarian assistance,” they said.

Fifteen children have already died of malnutrition at Kamal Adwan Hospital in Gaza City, and there are fears that the figures could be higher in other hospitals. As the risk of famine continues to rise, all children under five – 335,000 – are at high risk of severe malnutrition, with serious negative impact on their development and their right to health. At least 90 per cent of children under five are affected by one or more infectious diseases, and 70 per cent have diarrhoea. In January, one in six infants (children under two) in northern Gaza were found to be acutely malnourished, leading to a condition known as wasting.

“We have said before: we are alarmed to see an entire civilian population suffering such unprecedented starvation, so quickly and completely,” the experts said. “We have been saying for months that widespread famine is imminent in Gaza.”

They expressed horror that children were starting to die from malnutrition, dehydration and hunger. “When children start dying like this, you know that famine is probably already happening or just around the corner,” the experts said.

Reports on the recent negotiations between Hamas and Israel on a proposed 40-day ceasefire have revealed that, as part of the terms of the negotiations, Israel has committed to allow the entry of trucks and the delivery of tents, caravans, essential fuel, construction materials and equipment to rehabilitate critical infrastructure such as hospitals and bakeries.

“Humanitarian aid must not be used as a bargaining chip in negotiations,” the experts said. The provision of humanitarian aid is the minimum basic humanitarian obligation that Israel must provide unconditionally, they said.

“After months of Israel’s starvation campaign, Gaza may already be facing famine,” the experts said. “Recent airdrops will achieve little. The only way to prevent or end this famine is an immediate and permanent ceasefire.”

“We reiterate our earlier call by UN Special Procedures for an arms embargo and sanctions on Israel, as part of all States’ duty to ensure respect for human rights and stop violations of international humanitarian law by Israel,” the experts said.

*The experts: Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to foodFrancesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Pedro Arrojo Agudo, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitationReem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Dominique Day and Bina D’CostaWorking Group of Experts on People of African Descent, Ms Ashwini K.P. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Paula Gaviria Betancur, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons

Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN human rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

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