UN: Gazans living in ‘utter, deepening horror’

UN: Gazans living in ‘utter, deepening horror’

Rights chief urges both sides to ‘come to your senses’, cease hostilities and release all hostages

UN rights chief Volker Turk says Gaza Palestinians were living in
UN rights chief Volker Turk says Gaza Palestinians were living in "catastrophic" humanitarian circumstances. (Photo: AFP)

GENEVA - Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are living in "utter, deepening horror", the UN human rights chief said Wednesday, as he pleaded for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Volker Turk said there was a high risk of atrocity crimes being committed in such "catastrophic" humanitarian circumstances."

"Civilians in Gaza continue to be relentlessly bombarded by Israel and collectively punished — suffering death, siege, destruction and deprivation of the most essential human needs such as food, water, lifesaving medical supplies and other essentials on a massive scale," he told a press conference.

"Palestinians in Gaza are living in utter, deepening horror."

He said 1.9 million of the Palestinian enclave's 2.2 million people had been displaced and were being pushed into "ever-diminishing and extremely overcrowded places in southern Gaza, in unsanitary and unhealthy conditions".

"The catastrophic situation we see unfolding in the Gaza Strip was entirely foreseeable and preventable.

"In these circumstances, there is a heightened risk of atrocity crimes," the United Nations high commissioner for human rights said.

"As an immediate step, I call for an urgent cessation of hostilities and the release of all hostages," he said, adding: "you need to come back to your senses".

 'Hateful rhetoric'

Israel declared war on Hamas after the militant group's October 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli authorities, and saw around 240 hostages taken into Gaza.

The latest toll from the Hamas-run government media office said 16,248 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, had been killed.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and free 138 hostages still held after scores were released during a short-lived truce.

Turk said he was gravely concerned by "dehumanising and inciteful statements" made by current and former Israeli officials, as well as Hamas figures.

"History has shown us where this kind of language can lead," he said.

"This is not just unacceptable, but a competent court may view such statements, in the circumstances in which they were made, as incitement to atrocity crimes."

Decrying a sharp rise in hate speech globally over the past two months — in particular anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim bigotry — he said political leaders using "inflammatory, toxic and hateful rhetoric... must be vigorously condemned".

Push for peace

Turk said the human rights crisis in the occupied West Bank was also "extremely alarming", calling for Israeli authorities to take immediate steps to end "widespread impunity" for violations.

"The only way to end the accumulative sufferings is ending the occupation and achieving the two-state solution," he said.

Turk said he had met Palestinians and Israelis who want a peaceful future for both sides, whose voices were currently not being heard.

"I hope that they will be much stronger in the future," he said.

"One thing is very clear: it cannot go back to what it was."

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