US based Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Israel on Monday of trying to starve Palestinians in Gaza during its war with Hamas, a charge Israel said came from an “anti-Semitic” group that did not warrant an answer.
With no let-up in the bombardment and siege of the densely-populated enclave, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin was the latest US official to head to Israel to press its ally to transition from high-intensity warfare.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to carry on until “absolute victory” despite foreign pressure to ease up in Gaza, where buildings lie in ruins, hunger is rife, and health authorities say around 19 000 Palestinians have been killed.
Despite a rising global outcry over the toll among Gaza’s civilians, who have nowhere to go, Israel is bent on eliminating Hamas militants behind an October 7 rampage that killed 1200 people and took 240 hostages, according to Israeli authorities.
In its report, HRW said Israeli forces were blocking delivery of water, food and fuel, razing agricultural areas and depriving the coastal enclave’s 2.3 million people – most left homeless – of items needed for survival.
“The Israeli government is using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare in the occupied Gaza Strip,” HRW, a global group based in New York, said.
“World leaders should be speaking out against this abhorrent war crime.”
Israel responded by calling HRW an “anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli” group with no moral right to criticise after its “silent” reaction to the October 7 killings.
“All their agenda is anti-Israel and they deserve no response,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat.
Israel has denied targeting civilians while saying Hamas is to blame for civilian deaths by embedding itself in residential areas. It says it is trying to facilitate aid to innocents while preventing diversion of supplies to thousands of Hamas fighters operating from tunnels.
In the latest bombardments, 90 Palestinians died in the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza on Sunday, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry. Hamas Aqsa radio reported an attack on Gaza’s main hospital, Al Shifa.
In Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, medics said 12 Palestinians had been killed and dozens wounded, while in Rafah in the south, an Israeli air strike on a house left at least four people dead.
An Israeli tank shell hit the maternity building inside Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, killing a 13-year-old girl who had lost a leg in a previous hit, according to Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra.
On the Israeli side, the military released the names of four more soldiers killed in combat in Gaza, making it 126 dead in the strip since its ground invasion began in late October.
Residents reported gunfire between Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters in various spots up and down narrow Gaza, with the militants saying they had launched a series of attacks.
Father-of-four Raed, 45, who has moved his family twice already, said Gazans were exhausted trying to stay safe while coping with catastrophic conditions on the ground.
“Money has lost its value, most of the items are not available. We rose from our beds after surviving a night of bombardment to tour the streets searching for food, we got tired,” he said in the Rafah area.
Increased violence also continued in the occupied West Bank, where four Palestinians were killed in an ongoing Israeli army raid on the Faraa refugee camp, the Palestinian health ministry said on Monday.
In Israel, consternation continued over last week’s mistaken killing of three hostages in Gaza by Israeli forces, even when they had been holding a white flag.
Avi Shamriz, father of slain hostage Alon Shamriz, said the three had done everything right to protect themselves and demanded to see footage of the incident. “They took their shirts off. They waved a white flag. They marched in daylight in the middle of the street, not in hiding. And they yelled for help. But our army doesn’t know how to observe open-fire regulations,” he told Army Radio.
Shamriz said he recognised his son’s handwriting on a white cloth saying “Help” in Hebrew and called the deaths an execution. A military official has acknowledged the incident went against the army’s rules of engagement.
Gaza’s health ministry said on Monday that at least 18787 Palestinians had been killed in strikes since October 7, mostly women and children, but with communications down between then and Sunday, that number is sure to rise. Excess mortality experts say the ministry’s ability to record and collate death toll data in real-time is decreasing amid the collapse of all systems in Gaza.