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UN rights chief ‘horrified’ by mass grave reports at Gaza hospitals

U.N. rights chief Volker Turk said that he was “horrified” by the destruction of the Nasser and Al Shifa medical facilities in Gaza and reports of mass graves containing hundreds of bodies there, according to a spokesperson.

Palestinian authorities reported finding hundreds of bodies in mass graves at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis this week after it was abandoned by Israeli troops. Bodies were also reported at the Al Shifa site following an Israeli special forces operation.

The Israeli military said claims by Palestinian authorities that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had buried bodies were “baseless and unfounded”. It said forces searching for Israeli hostages had examined bodies previously buried by Palestinians near Nasser Hospital and had returned the bodies to where they were buried after they were examined.

“The examination was conducted in a careful manner and exclusively in places where intelligence indicated the possible presence of hostages. The examination was carried out respectfully while maintaining the dignity of the deceased,” it said in a statement.

Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the rights organisation was raising the alarm because multiple bodies had been discovered. Turk said he had been horrified by the reported mass grave discoveries and the hospitals’ destruction, she said.

“Some of them had their hands tied, which of course indicates serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and these need to be subjected to further investigations,” Shamdasani said.

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She added that the U.N. human rights office was working on corroborating Palestinian officials’ reports, including one that 30 bodies were found at Al Shifa. According to those reports, some of the bodies were buried beneath piles of waste and included women and older people.

Reuters reporters on Monday saw emergency workers digging corpses out of the ground in the ruins of Nasser Hospital.

Gaza’s Hamas-run Civil Emergency Service said on Tuesday a total of 310 bodies had been found at one mass grave at Nasser so far and that two other graves had been identified, but not yet excavated. The Palestinian health ministry repeated the figure.

Turk, who was represented by Shamdasani at a U.N. press briefing, also decried Israeli strikes on Gaza in recent days, which he said had killed mostly women and children.

He also repeated a warning against a full-scale incursion on Rafah where some 1.2 million civilians are crowded together, saying this could lead to “further atrocity crimes”.

Violence has also surged in the occupied West Bank since Israel’s war on Hamas began on Oct. 7, sparked by the latter’s cross-border attacks on Israel which killed 1,200 people according to Israeli tallies.

Palestinian health authorities said 14 Palestinians had been killed on Saturday in the Nur Shams area in one of the heaviest tolls in the West Bank in months.

Shamdasani said the U.N. human rights office had received reports that some the victims in Nur Shams had been killed in apparent extrajudicial executions. The Hamas media office has accused Israel of executions but has not shared visual or other evidence. Israel denies carrying out executions.

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Israel’s military has previously said a number of militants were killed or arrested in the West Bank raid and at least four soldiers wounded.

By EMMA FARGE

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