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Gaza ‘buffer zone’ possible war crime: UN human rights chief

Whole neighbourhoods have been erased in northern Gaza.
Whole neighbourhoods have been erased in northern Gaza.

Gaza ‘buffer zone’ possible war crime: UN human rights chief

Human Rights

Israel’s reported attempt to create a “buffer zone” with Gaza could constitute a war crime, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk warned on Thursday. 

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) are reportedly destroying all buildings in the Gaza Strip that are within one kilometre of the Israel-Gaza fence and “clearing the area” to achieve this objective, he said in a statement.

Mr. Türk stressed to the Israeli authorities that the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the occupying Power from destroying property belonging to private persons except where absolutely necessary by military operations.

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Unlawful destruction

“Destructions carried out to create a ‘buffer zone’ for general security purposes do not appear consistent with the narrow ‘military operations’ exception set out in international humanitarian law,” he said.

“Further, extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly, amounts to a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and a war crime.”

Since late October, the UN human rights office, OHCHR, has recorded widespread destruction by the IDF of civilian and other infrastructure such as residential buildings, schools and universities in areas where fighting is not or no longer taking place.

Impact on returns

Demolitions have also occurred in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, As Shujaiyeh in Gaza City and at Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, among other areas, with reports of the destruction of many residential buildings and blocks in Khan Younis in the south in recent weeks.

“Israel has not provided cogent reasons for such extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure,” Mr. Türk said. 

He said the destruction “appears to be aimed at or has the effect of rendering the return of civilians to these areas impossible,” adding that the forcible transfer of civilians may constitute a war crime.