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People walk in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, on May 10, 2024. Alamy Stock Photo
Genocide Convention

Death toll in Gaza passes 35,000 as ICJ schedules new hearings in genocide case

Roughly 450,000 people have now been displaced in Rafah since the beginning of last week.

LAST UPDATE | 14 May

THE HEALTH MINISTRY in Gaza has said that more than 35,000 people have now been killed in the territory during more than seven months of Israel’s war on the besieged Palestinian territory.

The total toll of at least 35,173 people includes at least 82 deaths over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, adding that 79,061 people have been wounded in the Gaza Strip since October.

Thousands fled northern Gaza yesterday as renewed shelling pounded areas where Israel says Hamas militants have regrouped, despite having announced them cleared months ago.

Doctor’s Without Borders (MSF) said it has seen “a massive influx of patients” at Al Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah in the centre of the strip, as mass casualty events have become more frequent. 

“Our teams are witnessing an increase in bombing throughout the Gaza Strip,” the medical NGO said.

Roughly 450,000 people have now been displaced in Rafah since the beginning of last week, when the Israeli military (IDF) ordered them to evacuate eastern neighbourhoods and move to the Al-Mawasi area, which it calls a “safe zone”.

Palestinians, aid agencies and UN officials have repeatedly said that nowhere is safe in Gaza. 

With roughly 100,000 people newly displaced in the north of Gaza, about a quarter of the territory’s population has now been displaced in the last week.

Since the IDF took control of the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing a week ago, no water, food, fuel or medical supplies have entered the strip.

Today, after the Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz blamed Egypt for the crossing’s closure, Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, said:

“Egypt affirms its categorical rejection of the policy of distorting the facts and disavowing responsibility followed by the Israeli side.”

Katz had said: “I spoke with UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock about the need to persuade Egypt to reopen the Rafah crossing to allow the continued delivery of international humanitarian aid to Gaza.”

He added that “the key to preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is now in the hands of our Egyptian friends.”

Aid trucks have been sitting on the Egyptian side of the border for months, with many being turned back after Israeli inspections. Items considered a threat by the Israeli border guards included ventilators, crutches, oxygen tanks and water filters.

‘Unimaginable horrors’

“Recent evacuation orders and intensified military activity in Rafah have forced a reversal in the scale-up of nutrition services while the number of children suffering from acute malnutrition continues to increase,” the UN office for humanitarian affairs said yesterday.

The General Secretary of the UN said one of its vehicles was struck in Gaza yesterday, killing a UN worker, and injuring another. More than 240 UN workers have been killed in Gaza during the Israeli campaign. 

A spokesperson for UNICEF, the UN agency for children, said: “The children of Gaza, who have endured unimaginable horrors, deserve an immediate ceasefire and a chance for a peaceful future.”

“Civilians – already exhausted, malnourished, and facing numerous traumatic events – are now facing increased death, injury, and displacement among the ruins of their communities.

“The very humanitarian operations that became the only lifeline for the whole population across the Strip are threatened.”

Field hospital closed

The medical NGO Doctors Without Borders has said it has been forced to close a field hospital in Gaza due to the “ intensification of the onslaught by the Israeli forces in Rafah”.

MSF said it closed the Rafah Indonesian Field hospital on Sunday and that the 22 patients there had been transferred to other medical facilities.

MSF said it has has seen “a pattern of systematic attacks against medical facilities and civilian infrastructure” since the beginning of the conflict.

“We have had to leave 12 different health structures and have endured 26 violent incidents, which include airstrikes damaging hospitals, tanks being fired at agreed deconflicted shelters, ground offensives into medical centres, and convoys fired upon,” says Michel-Olivier Lacharité, MSF Head of Emergency Operations.

Because of the Israeli siege of the territory, hospitals and bakeries are running “dangerously low” on fuel, MSF said. 

According to the UN’s Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 24 out of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are now out of service.

Unless fuel is immediately allowed into Gaza, five hospitals, five field hospitals, 28 ambulances, 23 medical points and 17 primary health care centres will only be able to sustain operations for less than 48 hours, the agency warned. 

Eight bakeries supported by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) in southern Gaza have already ceased operations and four will run out of fuel and supplies within three days, according to OCHA.

Genocide case

The International Court of Justice, the world’s highest court, has scheduled a return of the South African and Israeli legal teams to The Hague on Thursday and Friday this week. 

South Africa made another request for additional emergency orders against Israel as part of its case alleging it has breached the Genocide Convention during its siege, bombardment and invasion of the Gaza Strip.

In its most recent appeal to the ICJ on Friday, South Africa again accused Israel of “continuing violations of the Genocide Convention” and of being “contemptuous” of international law.

The Court has scheduled an in-person hearing where the Israeli legal team will have to argue that the IDF can invade Rafah without causing significant civilian casualties. 

On Sunday, in another example of deteriorating relations with Israel, Egypt said it would formally intervene in the case on South Africa’s side, an unprecedented move for the country that has been a key mediator in truce talks.

Egypt was the first Arab nation to form diplomatic ties with Israel.

Egypt said its move to back the case comes “in light of the worsening severity and scope of Israeli attacks against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip”, according to a foreign ministry statement.

It further pointed to Israel’s systematic “targeting of civilians and destruction of infrastructure” and “pushing Palestinians into displacement and expulsion”.

Hamas expressed its “appreciation” to Egypt in a statement on Sunday evening, calling on “all countries around the world to take similar steps in support of the Palestinian cause by joining the lawsuit”.

In late March, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin said that Ireland would also intervene in the case in support of South Africa.

At the time, Martin pointed to the withholding of aid, targeting of civilians and infrastructure, the “indiscriminate use of explosive weapons in populated areas” and the “collective punishment of an entire population”.

Disputed death toll

Israel’s prime minister recently said on a podcast that almost half of those killed in the Gaza war are Hamas fighters, playing down the civilian toll, which has sparked global outrage.

Benjamin Netanyahu maintained the overall toll is lower than that given by authorities in the Palestinian territory.

But Netanyahu suggested in an interview on Sunday that the death toll in Gaza was actually around 30,000 and that Hamas fighters accounted for nearly half of that toll.

Gazan authorities have repeatedly said that a large majority of those killed in the war have been women and children.

In previous Israeli assaults on the Gaza Strip, death tolls from the UN, the Gaza health ministry and the IDF have all been roughly equivalent. Because Israel has not allowed humanitarian organisations or foreign media into Gaza since October, the territory’s health ministry is the only source of information regarding confirmed deaths.

The United Nations and a long line of countries have voiced alarm at the number of civilian deaths.

United Nations rights chief Volker Turk warned in a statement last month that children especially are “disproportionately paying the ultimate price in this war”.

The Israeli leader’s latest comment comes at a time of intensified pressure from Israel’s chief military supplier, the United States, over the Palestinian toll from the war.

Washington paused delivery of 3,500 bombs, and US President Joe Biden warned he would stop supplying artillery shells and other weapons if Israel carries out a full-scale invasion of Rafah, where around 1.5 million people have been sheltering.

A US State Department report on Friday said it was “reasonable to assess” that Israel has used American arms in ways inconsistent with standards on humanitarian rights but that the United States could not reach “conclusive findings.”

The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Militants also took around 250 hostages, scores of whom were freed during a week-long truce in November. Israel estimates 128 captives remain in Gaza, including 36 the military says are dead.

The Israeli Government has faced consistent protests from its own citizens demanding the hostages be prioritised. 

Last week Israel rejected a ceasefire deal that Hamas had agreed to and at the same time launched a heavy bombardment of Rafah while sending in tanks to seize the crossing on the Egyptian border. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had described the proposed deal as “extraordinarily generous” to Hamas.  

Need more information on what is happening in Israel and Palestine? Check out our new FactCheck Knowledge Bank for essential reads and guides to navigating the news online.

 

With reporting from © AFP 2024