UN rights chief ‘horrified’ by growing discoveries of mass graves at Gaza hospitals

Ahram Online , AP , Tuesday 23 Apr 2024

UN rights chief Volker Turk said he was “horrified” by the destruction of the Nasser and Al-Shifa medical facilities in Gaza and reports of mass graves discovered there, while a massive new tent compound is being erected near Khan Younis in seeming anticipation of an Israeli assault on Rafah.

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows tents being constructed near Khan Younis in the Gaza
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows tents being constructed near Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, April 21, 2024. AP


Thirty-five bodies were discovered at the Nasser Medical Complex on Tuesday, raising the total number found over the week to at least 310, the Director of Civil Defense in Khan Younis Abu Suleiman told CNN.

Some 73 bodies were discovered on Monday, Abu Suleiman said.

The burial area in the Nasser Hospital was built when Israeli forces were besieging the facility in March. At the time, people were not able to bury the dead in a cemetery and dug graves in the hospital yard.

Some of the bodies had been found with hands and feet tied, “and there were signs of field executions. We do not know if they were buried alive or executed. Most of the bodies are decomposed,” Abu Suleiman told CNN.

Turk, addressing a UN briefing via a spokesperson on Tuesday, also decried Israeli strikes on Gaza in recent days, which he said have killed mostly women and children.

He also repeated a warning against a full-scale incursion on Rafah, saying this could lead to “further atrocity crimes.”

Meanwhile, Gaza medics continue to search for bodies in the hospital's courtyard in Khan Younis.

Previously, Raed Saqr, a Khan Younis civil defense spokesman and head of the search mission, told CNN that they are searching for the bodies of another 400 missing people after the Israeli military left on 7 April.

A CNN stringer who visited the scene Sunday said people had buried the bodies of family members who had been killed in the ground of the hospital in January as a temporary measure.

When they returned after the Israeli withdrawal, they found that the bodies had been exhumed – apparently because the IDF was using DNA testing to determine whether any of the captives held in Gaza were among the dead.

Another man, who said his brother Alaa was also killed in January, said: “I am here today looking for him. I have been coming here to the hospital for the last two weeks and trying to find him. Hopefully, I will be able to find him.”

The man, pointing to a fallen palm tree, said his brother had been temporarily buried there.

“I had buried him there on the side, but I can’t find him. The Israelis have dug up the dead bodies and switched them. They took DNA tests and misplaced all the dead bodies.”

The man’s mother said they had been searching for two weeks and were unable to find his body.

Another woman told CNN she had spent 10 days searching for the body of her daughter, who had been killed and buried in the hospital grounds late in January after a nearby residential building had been struck.

The Israelis, she added, “have dug out the dead bodies and they switched them. She and her uncle’s wife were buried at the same hour.”

“We have found the body of her uncle’s wife. But the rest we can’t find them,” the mother said.

The health ministry said Tuesday the bodies of 32 people killed by Israeli strikes have been brought to local hospitals over the past 24 hours.

Hospitals also received 59 wounded, it said in its daily report.

This brings the overall number of Palestinians killed by Israel in Gaza to at least 34,183; women and children make up around two-thirds of them. Another 77,143 have been injured, the ministry said.

Tents in Khan Younis

Satellite photos appear to show a new compound of tents being built near Khan Younis, as the Israeli army continues to signal it plans an offensive targeting the city of Rafah, the Associated Press said.

According to AP, images from Planet Labs PBC show the tent compound starting to be fully under construction on 16 April, just west of Khan Younis.

Images taken Sunday show the tent compound in the time since has grown.

The Israeli army said Tuesday that it was not involved in the tent construction near Khan Younis. However, their construction comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened “additional painful blows” over the breakdown of talks over trying to reach a truce and detainees swap deals with Hamas. 

That could include the long-threatened attack on Rafah, where half of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people have fled amid the war.

Netanyahu has said he would order the military to evacuate civilians from Rafah for the attack, but it is not clear where they could go.

Israel bombarded northern Gaza overnight in some of the heaviest shelling in weeks, residents told Reuters.

Israeli tanks made a new incursion east of Beit Hanoun on the northern edge of the strip. However, they did not penetrate far into the city, according to residents, with gunfire reportedly reaching some schools where displaced people were sheltering.

Shelling was intense east of Beit Hanoun and Jabalia and continued on Tuesday morning in areas such as Zeitoun, one of Gaza City’s oldest suburbs, with residents reporting at least 10 strikes in a matter of seconds along the main road.

Just west of Beit Hanoun in Beit Lahiya, medics and Hamas media said strikes had hit a mosque and a crowd gathering on the coastal road to collect aid dropped from the air. Reuters could not immediately confirm those targets.

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