Israeli destruction to make Gaza buffer zone a war crime: UN
In a statement, Volker Turk pointed to reports that the Israeli military is working inside the Gaza Strip to destroy all buildings within a kilometre of the border fence with Israel with the objective of creating a "buffer zone".
"I stress to the Israeli authorities that Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits destruction by the occupying power of property belonging to private persons, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations'," he said.
Turk warned that the objective of creating a buffer zone for general security purposes did "not appear consistent with the narrow 'military operations' exception set out in international humanitarian law".
He added that such "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".
Hamas' surprise attack on Israel on October 7 resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
But Israel's response has been vicious. As it vows to eliminate Hamas, its unprecedented air and ground offensive has killed close to 28,000 people, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that since October his office had recorded "widespread destruction and demolition by the (Israeli military) of civilian and other infrastructure".
This included "residential buildings, schools and universities in areas in which fighting is not or no longer taking place", he said.
In-depth: In the absence of an official post-war plan, extremist ideas once reserved for the fringes of society are taking over policymaking in Israel.— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) February 7, 2024
In Israel, the resettlement of Gaza is no longer a fringe idea ⬇️
He said such demolitions had also been seen in Beit Hanoun and Gaza City in the north of the besieged Palestinian territory, and the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza, while numerous residential buildings had reportedly been demolished in Khan Younis in the south in recent weeks.
"Israel has not provided cogent reasons for such extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure," Turk said.
"Such destruction of homes and other essential civilian infrastructure also entrenches the displacement of communities that were living in these areas prior to the escalation in hostilities," he warned.
In fact, he said, they appeared "to be aimed at or (to have) the effect of rendering the return of civilians to these areas impossible".
"I remind the authorities that forcible transfer of civilians may constitute a war crime."