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UN expert says Israel's Gaza war breaches international law

UN expert says Israel's Gaza offensive breaches international law
3 min read
A UN rights expert says Israel has broken international law in its unprecedented war on Gaza, saying its "right to self-defence" does not justify its offensive.
Israeli bombardment has ravaged the Palestinian territory since October 7 [Getty]

Israel has broken international law with its "relentless" bombardment of Gaza that has levelled neighbourhoods and killed thousands of Palestinians, a UN rights expert said Thursday.

The comments by Francesca Albanese, an Italian lawyer who is the UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, came as Israel confronts a case brought by South Africa to the UN's International Court of Justice accusing it of genocide.

"Israel has done a number of things that are highly illegal, highly unlawful," Albanese told a Madrid news conference.

While Israel has the right to self-defence, international humanitarian law must be respected "to protect people who are not actively involved in combat; civilians, prisoners of war and the sick and wounded," she added.

This meant distinguishing between combatants and civilians and ensuring military attacks are proportionate to avoid excessive harm to civilians, Albanese said.

"Instead what has happened is over 100 days of relentless bombing - the first two weeks using 6,000 bombs per week, bombs of 2,000 pounds, in highly crowded area," she said.

"Most hospitals have been made dysfunctional. A good number of them, the major ones, have been closed, bombed or taken over by the army. People are dying now not only because of the bombs but because there is not sufficient health infrastructure to cure them of wounds.

"The number of kids who get amputated every day is shocking, one or two limbs. During the first two months of this (war) 1,000 kids were amputated without anaesthesia. It is a monstrosity," she added.

Israeli bombardment has ravaged the Palestinian territory since October 7. At least 24,620 people have been killed in Israel's air and ground offensive, most of them civilians, and up to 85% of its 2.3 million population has been displaced, according to the UN.

Hamas launched a surprise attack in southern Israel on October 7, killing an estimated 1,100 people and taking more than 250 others hostage, according to Israeli figures. Israel says 132 remain in Gaza. Some have been killed by Israeli strikes or shot dead by Israeli troops.

The Palestinian group says the incursion was in response to Israel's decades-long blockade and aggression against Palestinians.

Special Rapporteurs are not UN staff but are independent experts named by the UN human rights commission who monitor rights areas.

Albanese said she "firmly condemned" the violence carried out by Hamas, which she said amounted to war crimes and may also be crimes against humanity, but "nothing justifies what Israel has done".

South Africa took its case to the International Court of Justice last week. But it has been fiercely resisted by Israel with support from the United States and other allies.

Israel has insisted its military response was in self-defence after the brutality of the Hamas attacks and that the genocide case is "distorted".