Shocking Mass Graves At Gaza Hospitals Prompt International Calls For Investigation

Shocking Mass Graves At Gaza Hospitals Prompt International Calls For Investigation

A growing number of international bodies are demanding an independent probe into mass graves recently discovered at multiple Gaza hospitals that were raided by Israeli troops ― revealing hundreds more Palestinian deaths as Israel’s military offensive in the besieged enclave surpasses 200 days.

As of Wednesday, Gaza health officials said that Palestinian medics have uncovered more than 300 bodies at the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, which Israeli troops occupied until their April 7 withdrawal. The U.N. Human Rights Council said Tuesday that medics found even more bodies in several mass graves on the grounds of Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, which was once the territory’s largest medical complex. Israeli forces conducted a two-week siege on the al-Shifa before withdrawing on April 1.

“The harrowing discovery of these mass graves underscores the urgency of ensuring immediate access for human rights investigators, including forensic experts, to the occupied Gaza Strip to ensure that evidence is preserved and to carry out independent and transparent investigations with the aim of guaranteeing accountability for any violations of international law,” senior Amnesty International official Erika Guevara Rosas said in a statement on Wednesday.

Workers uncover bodies found in a mass grave at Nasser Hospital in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, on Tuesday.Rizek Abdeljawad/Xinhua via Getty Images

The Israeli military has claimed that those whom they arrested and killed were militant fighters. But journalists, doctors and other witnesses say most of the victims were civilians or health care workers.

Journalists on the ground in Gaza like Al Jazeera correspondent Hani Mahmoud said that the bodies being found in the mass graves include women, children, patients and medical staff. Some of the corpses found at Nasser were found naked with their hands bound, according to Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the U.N. human rights office.

According to Gaza journalist Bisan Owda, some of the bodies found in the mass graves at Nasser did not have organs, skin or heads. Footage from Owda shows a massive number of body bags surrounded by piles of dirt ― presumably from medics continuing to dig out corpses from the graves ― while family members try to identify their loved ones. She shows one of the corpses in a body bag who had a cast on their leg, signaling they were likely a patient at the hospital when they were killed.

Any hospital staff and evacuees who were able to leave Nasser before Israel withdrew its troops described scenes of “horror, mass killings and arrests to the point the entire hospital turned from a place of healing into a massive graveyard,” Mahmoud told his network. The Gaza Civil Defense said Monday that most of the bodies found at Nasser came from a temporary burial ground inside the hospital, likely due to Israel’s siege blocking access to cemeteries, according to The Associated Press.

At al-Shifa, Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor team members on the ground in Gaza said they witnessed medics exhuming hundreds of bodies in the hospital’s vicinity, many of whom were subjected to “premeditated murder as well as arbitrary and extrajudicial executions while they were detained and handcuffed.” A Gaza Civil Defense spokesperson told CNN that medics have recovered at least 380 bodies from the al-Shifa graves.

Gaza authorities carry out an investigation after Israel’s two-week siege that completely destroyed the Al-Shifa Hospital, leaving hundreds killed including displaced families, patients and doctors in Gaza City, Gaza, on April 8.Ramzi Mahmud/Anadolu via Getty Images

Israel has called allegations it buried Palestinian bodies “baseless and unfounded.” The military told AP that troops exhumed bodies Palestinians had already buried as part of the military’s search for hostages, but claimed they returned them to their place.

That explanation has not stopped an increasing number of international groups to call for an independent probe of the discovered grave sites.

In a statement released Tuesday, U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk said he was “horrified” by the hospitals’ destruction and by the mass graves in and around the areas.

“Given the prevailing climate of impunity, this should include international investigators,” Türk said. “Hospitals are entitled to very special protection under international humanitarian law. And the intentional killing of civilians, detainees and others who are hors de combat [non-combatant] is a war crime.”

Workers carry a body found in a mass grave at Nasser Hospital in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis.Rizek Abdeljawad/Xinhua via Getty Images

There is no formal international definition of what constitutes a “mass grave,” though forensic experts describe it as a “burial site containing the remains, often commingled, of numerous persons.” Guevara Rosas said that mass grave sites must be protected for forensic experts because they are “potential crime scenes.”

“The absence of forensic experts and the decimation of Gaza’s medical sector as a result of the war and Israel’s cruel blockade, along with the lack of availability of the necessary resources for the identification of bodies such as DNA testing, are huge obstacles to the identifications of remains,” she continued.

“This denies those killed the opportunity to have a dignified burial and deprives families with relatives missing or forcibly disappeared the right to know and to justice ― leaving them in a limbo of uncertainty and anguish.”

On Wednesday, the EU and Euro-Med also called for a transparent inquiry into the mass graves at the hospitals. U.S. State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said that the reports of mass graves are “incredibly troubling,” and that the Biden administration will seek more information from the Israeli government.

The shockingly high number of corpses recovered so far is “alarming, and requires urgent international action, including the formation of an independent international investigation committee,” Euro-Med said in a statement.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, Israel’s military campaign has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza ― more than 24,000 of whom are women and children ― injured an additional 77,000, displaced most of the population, and caused a widespread famine by destroying infrastructure and blocking most aid deliveries from entering the strip.

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