Palestinians in Gaza face mass ethnic cleansing as Israel orders half the population of the densely populated strip to evacuate amid continued aerial bombardment and dwindling resources on the ground, UN human rights experts warned on Saturday.
“In the name of self-defense, Israel is seeking to justify what would amount to ethnic cleansing,” UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese said, noting that “Israel has already carried out mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians under the fog of war.”
“There is a grave danger that what we are witnessing may be a repeat of the 1948 Nakba, and the 1967 Naksa, yet on a larger scale,” she warned, referring to Israel’s mass expulsions of at least 1 million Palestinians from their homes and land in 1947-48 and 1967. “The international community must do everything to stop this from happening again.”
The UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees warned on Saturday that its shelters in Gaza “are not safe anymore,” adding that the area’s 2.3 million residents were rapidly running out of water. Israel shut off electricity to Gaza following Hamas’ attack last Saturday, compounding the humanitarian crisis in the territory, which has been under an illegal blockade since 2007.
The UN on Friday warned that Israel’s evacuation order targeting the 1.1 million Palestinians living in northern Gaza would create a “humanitarian catastrophe” amount to a certain “death sentence” for the sick and hospitalized, given the hospital system is already barely operational and several have been bombed.
“Moving more than one million people across a densely populated warzone to a place with no food, water, or accommodation, when the entire territory is under siege, is extremely dangerous – and in some cases, simply not possible,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told reporters on Friday ahead of a meeting with the Security Council.
Urging the government to rescind the order, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Paula Gaviria Betancur explained that “forcible population transfers constitute a crime against humanity, and collective punishment is prohibited under international humanitarian law.”
On Thursday, Israel ordered the population of northern Gaza to move to the south within 24 hours, after which it launched a ground invasion of the north to “clear” it. The entire territory remains blockaded, with the exit via Egypt closed since Tuesday due to ongoing Israeli airstrikes.
Following Hamas’ attack on Israel last weekend, which left some 1,200 Israelis dead, Israel has targeted Gaza with the most intense bombing campaign in its history, killing upwards of 1,900 Palestinians and injuring over 7,600 more, according to the UN. Over 423,000 people have been displaced in the last week.
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