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Health leaders call for an end to the horrific violence as war crime investigations target Hamas and Israel

Amid “clear evidence” that war crimes may have been committed in the latest explosion of violence in Israel and Gaza, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for an end to the hostilities that are causing “untold suffering”.

The death toll in Israel has reached 1,200 following horrific acts of violence by Hamas and others on Saturday, while more than 1,000 people have been killed by retaliatory Israeli air strikes on Gaza, with many more injured, according to a BBC report at 10pm AEDT on 11 October.

The safety of more than two million people crammed into the Gaza Strip is under threat from bombardments as well as cutting of essential supplies, including fuel for generators running hospitals.

“The pain of so many families must be unbearable,” said a WHO statement on 10 October.

WHO said it had offered assistance to health officials in both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

On 9 October, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met with the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who agreed to a WHO request to facilitate the delivery of health and other humanitarian supplies from WHO to Gaza via the Rafah crossing.

Such humanitarian corridors must be protected, the WHO statement said.

WHO is also gravely concerned about the health and well-being of hostages, including elderly civilians, seized from Israel by Hamas in attacks on 7 October.

“The hostages’ health and medical needs must be addressed immediately, and we call for their safe release,” the statement said.

Catastrophic

According to a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) report, the situation in Gaza is catastrophic with hospitals overwhelmed, and exhausted medical teams working around the clock to treat the wounded.

Léo Cans, the MSF head of mission for Palestine, based in Jerusalem, said latest estimates put the number of displaced people at around 200,000, mainly people whose homes have been destroyed and who need water, food and somewhere to stay.

In a report published on 10 October, Cans said people in Gaza are terrified.

“I speak very regularly with our colleagues there. They are very tough people because, unfortunately, they have lived through a lot of wars, but the current situation is causing them extreme anxiety.

“They say that this time it’s different: they don’t see a way out and they wonder how it’s all going to end. They are in terrible mental distress. There aren’t words to describe what people are going through.

“As for MSF, we are very concerned to see that medical facilities have not been spared. One of the hospitals we support was hit by an airstrike and damaged. Another airstrike destroyed an ambulance carrying the wounded, right in front of the hospital where we work. The MSF team, who were operating on a patient, had to leave the hospital in a hurry. We repeat: medical facilities must be respected. This is not something that should have to be negotiated.”

Cans said the intensity of the violence and bombardments is shocking, as is the death toll.

“The declaration of war must not, under any circumstances, lead to collective punishment of the population of Gaza. Cutting off water, electricity and fuel supplies is unacceptable, as it punishes the entire population and deprives them of their basic needs.“

Accountability for war crimes

All those who have violated international law and targeted civilians must be held accountable for their crimes, according to the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem and Israel.

The Commission has been collecting and preserving evidence of war crimes committed by all sides since 7 October, when Hamas launched a complex attack on Israel and Israeli forces responded with airstrikes in Gaza.

Reports that armed groups from Gaza have gunned down hundreds of unarmed civilians are abhorrent and cannot be tolerated, the Commission said in a statement. “Taking civilian hostages and using civilians as human shields are war crimes.”

The Commission said it is gravely concerned with Israel’s latest attack on Gaza and Israel’s announcement of a complete siege on Gaza involving the withholding of water, food, electricity and fuel, “which will undoubtfully cost civilian lives and constitutes collective punishment”.

The Commission is intent on ensuring legal accountability, including individual criminal and command responsibility. To that end, the Commission is committed to investigating current events and identifying those responsible for violations of international law on all sides, both those directly committing international crimes and those in positions of command responsibility.

It will continue sharing information collected with the relevant judicial authorities, especially with the International Criminal Court, where the Office of the Prosecutor has already commenced an investigation on the situation of Palestine since 2021.

The Commission called for the unconditional and safe release of all individuals who have been taken hostage by Palestinian armed groups. The taking of hostages is a violation of international law and constitutes an international crime.

In line with its previous findings, the Commission emphasises that the only path towards ending violence and achieving sustainable peace is through addressing the root causes of the conflict including through ending the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and recognising the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

Public health leaders condemn terrorist attacks

The World Federation of Public Health Associations (WFPHA) issued a statement strongly condemning the terrorist attacks on civilians in Israel perpetrated by Hamas.

WFPHA said it considers these attacks as a severe violation of human rights and an infringement of international law. As a global public health association, WFPHA is deeply concerned about the many lives lost and the negative repercussions on the physical and mental health of individuals and communities.

WFPHA said it is fearful for the wellbeing of about 150 non-combatant civilians taken hostage by Hamas, including children, toddlers, disabled and elderly persons. Although no official list was given, it seems that among the hostages there are those with Canadian, US, EU, Philippines, and Thai citizenship, as well as Israeli citizens.

Their lives, as well as their physical and mental health, are at great risk. WFPHA joins the Association of Schools of Public Health in the European Region’s call for their immediate release and for rapid intervention on their behalf by organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent.

WFPHA said it is concerned about non-combatant civilians in the Gaza Strip, who deserve protection like civilians everywhere.

Misinformation and disinformation

Authorities in the European Union and UK have raised concerns about the online dissemination of misinformation and disinformation, especially by X/Twitter. The UK technology secretary has reportedly summoned social media executives to demand removal of violent content from their platforms related to the Hamas attack on Israel.

EU commissioner Thierry Breton warned Elon Musk that his X platform, formerly known as Twitter, has allowed “illegal content and disinformation” to proliferate.

Posts about the attack in Israel have led to confusion, misinformation and conflict on Elon Musk’s X, exposing how his acquisition and policy changes have transformed the social media site into an unreliable resource during a time of crisis, researchers told Bloomberg, as reported on 10 October.

Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory researcher who has studied viral falsehoods on social media, said that news of the attack on Israel was “the first real test of Elon Musk’s version of Twitter, and it failed spectacularly”.

X, under Musk’s ownership since October 2022, has made changes to its content safety policies, with the consequences now glaringly apparent in this moment of geopolitical crisis, researchers said. Over the past year, the company loosened its platform’s rules, cut trust-and-safety employees after previously saying it would expand the team, reinstated once-banned accounts and allowed people to pay for a checkmark on the social network.

NBC News reports that researchers have uncovered a propaganda network of 67 accounts on the X social platform that are coordinating a campaign of posting false, inflammatory content related to the Israel-Hamas war.

Read more at Digital Journal, EU’s tech ‘sheriff’ turns to X rival in disinfo duel with Musk.


See Croakey’s archive of articles on war and health

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