Gaza siege 'clear-cut war crime': Human Rights Watch expert

Siege amounts to 'collective punishment' of over 2M Gazans, 'starvation' as means of warfare, Human Rights Watch expert tells Anadolu

Burak Bir  | 13.10.2023 - Update : 13.10.2023
Gaza siege 'clear-cut war crime': Human Rights Watch expert People line up to fill boxes with clean water from a dispenser as water shortage happens following the suspension of water flow from Israel to Gaza, in Khan Yunis, Gaza on October 10, 2023. ( Abed Rahim Khatib - Anadolu Agency )

- Siege amounts to 'collective punishment' of over 2M Gazans, 'starvation' as means of warfare, Human Rights Watch expert tells Anadolu

- If true, use of white phosphorus on Gaza 'horrific,' Ahmed Benchemsi says on allegations of incendiary munitions' use by Israel


Israel's siege on the Gaza Strip is a "clear-cut war crime," as starvation is used as a weapon in "warfare" and more than 2 million residents are subjected to collective punishment, according to a regional director for the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In an interview with Anadolu, Ahmed Benchemsi, advocacy and communications director for HRW's Middle East and North Africa division, said the Israeli government was punishing the entire population after a surprise attack by Gaza-based Palestinian group Hamas.

"The siege is a clear-cut war crime. That is very simple and very clear," he said, adding that "crimes committed by a small minority, Hamas combatants, who did perpetrate war crimes as well, because killing civilians and abducting them and taking them as hostages is forbidden by the laws of war.

"But that's not a reason to punish 2 million persons as a collectivity in retaliation to them," Benchemsi stressed.

In response to a question on reports of Israel allegedly using incendiary white phosphorus, he said these munitions were internationally banned because it is impossible to differentiate between military targets and civilians when using them, especially in crowded areas like Gaza.

Touching on the harm that white phosphorus can cause people upon exposure, he said that even minor burns could be fatal.

"It is a very horrific weapon and so horrific that the Israeli army had pledged in the past to not use it any more in populated areas and yet it did," added Benchemsi.

Early on Friday, the UN said it needed "more time" to investigate Israel's alleged use of white phosphorus in Gaza.

Late on Thursday, the HRW said Israel used white phosphorus in its military operation in Gaza and Lebanon.

- 'Israel has obligation for access of humanitarian good'

Under international law, the only legitimate targets in a war are military ones, Benchemsi noted, stressing that Israel is violating the laws of war in Gaza.

"In the past few days, we have witnessed severe bombing on Gaza that appears like it was indiscriminate because there was a lot of civilian casualties, including entire families.

"So, I really fail to see where the military targets are in that," he said, adding that using explosive weapons in densely populated areas like Gaza constituted a failure to uphold the laws of war, since both civilians and military forces would be hit.

Another war crime was the cutting off of electricity, water, and food to Gaza, he pointed out, underlining that hospitals, which rely on electricity to function, are completely overrun, even as patients have lost access to medicine, which is not arriving in the city due to the blockade.

"Obviously, the laws of war provide that no civilian should be targeted, and that the warring parties, both of them, in this case Israel, have an obligation to facilitate access to civilian populations in need, for access of humanitarian goods to civilian populations who need them."

In a dramatic escalation of Middle East tensions, Israeli forces launched a sustained and forceful military campaign against the Gaza Strip, a response to a military offensive by the Palestinian group Hamas in Israeli territories.

The conflict began last Saturday when Hamas initiated Operation Al-Aqsa Flood against Israel, a multi-pronged surprise attack including a barrage of rocket launches and infiltrations into Israel via land, sea, and air.

Hamas said the operation was in retaliation for the storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem and Israeli settlers’ growing violence against Palestinians.

The Israeli military then launched Operation Swords of Iron against Hamas targets within the Gaza Strip.

Israel's response has extended into cutting water and electricity supplies to Gaza, further worsening the living conditions in an area that has reeled under a crippling siege since 2007.

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