UN calls for investigation into mass graves found at Gaza hospitals

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United Nations leaders demanded a “clear, transparent and credible” investigation Tuesday after mass graves containing the bodies of hundreds of men and women were discovered on the grounds of two major hospitals in Gaza that were previously under assault by the Israeli military.

The mass graves contained some people stripped naked with their hands tied, raising concerns over potential war crimes, the U.N. said, describing the bodies as “buried deep in the ground and covered with waste.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Tuesday that investigators must have complete access to the sites and ensured safety from the Israeli military.

Mass grave sites were discovered at the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, containing 283 bodies at the Nasser site alone. The Khan Younis burial site was constructed because Palestinian civilians could not perform burials due to ongoing military attacks by Israeli forces, Palestinian Civil Defense said.

“Hospitals are entitled to very special protection under international humanitarian law,” U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk said Tuesday. “And the intentional killing of civilians, detainees and others who are ‘hors de combat’ (incapable of engaging in combat) is a war crime.”

Türk said any investigation into the mass graves should be independent of the Israeli government “given the prevailing climate of impunity,” adding that he was “horrified” by the reports.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani added that 30 bodies were discovered at the Al-Shifa Hospital site, including some bound and tied.

She added that there could be “many more” victims “despite the claim by the Israeli Defense Forces to have killed 200 Palestinians during the Al-Shifa medical complex operation.”

U.S. State Department spokesman Vedant Patel called the reports of mass graves “incredibly troubling” and said the Biden administration has questioned the Israeli government.

The Israeli government said its forces previous exhumed bodies buried at the sites in search of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in the conflict. The Israeli military besieged the hospitals for days earlier this year, claiming that Hamas militants were inside among civilians. The claims could not be independently verified.

It is unclear which body would conduct an investigation if authorized. 

The Israeli military has again stepped-up strikes on southern Gaza in recent days, as it hopes to push into the city of Rafah. A total of 34,000 Palestinians — two-thirds of them women and children — have been killed in the war, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Much of Gaza has now devolved into famine, as the Biden administration continues to pressure the Israeli government to allow more humanitarian aid into the territory as a humanitarian crisis deepens.

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