UN demands end to Israel’s support for settler attacks on W. Bank’s Palestinians; 10,000 Gaza women killed since Oct.7

United Nations

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 17 (APP): The United Nations has voiced grave concern over escalating violence in the West Bank, demanding that Israeli security forces “immediately” stop supporting settler attacks on Palestinians in the occupied territory.

The statement from the UN’s human rights office was issued hours after two Palestinian men were killed by Israeli settlers in a village south of Nablus, in the latest violent attack involving settlers in the increasingly tense West Bank.

The rights office spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani, said in Geneva on Tuesday that the Israeli regime forces “must immediately end their active participation in and support for settler attacks on Palestinians.”

Palestinians said the incident followed a clash when settlers entered Palestinian-owned land and assaulted residents. Tensions in the West Bank have escalated sharply since the killing of a 14-year-old boy from a settler family at the weekend.

Monday’s violence brought to eight the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces or armed settlers since Friday, as Palestinian authorities reported an increasing number of attacks by settlers across the West Bank. Palestinian witnesses and video suggested that Israeli security forces had been present, standing by at some of the incidents.

Salah Bani Jaber, the mayor of Aqraba, a town near the northern city of Nablus, saw Monday’s settler attack. He said about 50 settlers, many of them armed, attacked members of his community and fired at Palestinian youths, killing two of them and wounding others. “There were Israeli soldiers at the scene who stood idly by watching the settlers,” he said.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said soldiers blocked its ambulances from reaching the area and tending to the wounded. The Israeli military said it was looking into the incident.

In its statement, the UN’s human rights office said that in recent months Palestinians on the West Bank had been “subjected to waves of attacks by hundreds of Israeli settlers, often accompanied or supported by Israeli security forces”.

“In the West Bank, escalating violence over the past few days is also a matter of grave concern,” it added.

“Israeli authorities must instead prevent further attacks, including by bringing those responsible to account. Dozens of Palestinians were reportedly injured, including through the use of firearms, by settlers and Israeli security forces, and hundreds of homes and other buildings, as well as cars, were torched.

“Three Israeli soldiers suffered injuries after they were hit with stones. It was also reported that settlers established at least two new outposts in the past two days in the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills, near Palestinian communities that have been attacked repeatedly by settlers in the past months and are at imminent risk of being forcibly transferred from their homes and land.”

Spokesperson Shamdasani added: “Those reasonably suspected of criminal acts, including murder or other unlawful killings, must be brought to justice through a judicial process that complies with international human rights standards, following a prompt, impartial, independent, effective and transparent investigation.

“This obligation includes protecting Palestinians from settler attacks, and ending unlawful use of force against Palestinians by the Israeli security forces.”

The West Bank, which Israel has occupied since 1967, has experienced a surge in violence since early last year. At least 468 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers across the West Bank since 7 October, according to official Palestinian sources.

The current wave of settler attacks followed the discovery on Saturday by Israeli security forces of the body of an Israeli shepherd, 14-year-old Binyamin Ahimeir, in the central West Bank, who the forces said had been murdered in an anti-Israeli attack.

The situation has prompted the US and the UK to impose sanctions against named violent settlers involved in attempting to drive Palestinian communities from their land against the backdrop of the war in Gaza.

In February the UK imposed sanctions against four Israeli nationals, saying they were “extremist settlers” who had violently attacked Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The measures impose strict financial and travel restrictions on the four individuals, who Britain said were involved in “egregious abuses of human rights”.

Meanwhile, nearly 10,000 women have been killed in Gaza since war erupted six months ago and one child is injured or dies every 10 minutes, UN agencies warned Tuesday, amid spiraling violence in the West Bank and concerns over a regional escalation of the conflict following Iran’s missile and drone strike on Israel.

“Six months into the war, 10,000 Palestinian women in Gaza have been killed, among them an estimated 6,000 mothers, leaving 19,000 children orphaned,” said UN Women, in a new report.  “More than one million women and girls in Gaza have almost no food, no access to safe water, latrines, washrooms, or sanitary pads, with disease growing amidst inhumane living conditions.”

Echoing those concerns, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) issued a new ceasefire call so that humanitarian relief can be brought into Gaza to help rebuild hospitals including Al Shifa, which has been “basically destroyed” after a recent Israeli incursion.

“The management is trying to get the emergency department cleaned (but) the work is just enormous to get just a cleaning done, let alone to get supplies,” said WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic, following a new UN health agency mission to the devastated medical facility in Gaza City on Monday.

Only a third of Gaza’s 36 hospitals remain functional meaning that it is essential to “preserve what is left” of the enclave’s health system, Jasarevic insisted.

But needs remain massive with more than 76,000 people injured, according to the local authorities, and several UN agencies have repeatedly warned that amputations and C-section births have gone ahead without anaesthetic.

“Once again we’re calling really for the deconfliction mechanism to be effective, to be transparent and to be workable,” the WHO officer said, referring to the approvals system used by humanitarians in conjunction with the warring parties to try to ensure that aid convoys are not targeted.

Concerns remain over the deconfliction protocol after seven aid workers from the NGO World Central Kitchen were killed in Israeli airstrikes on 1 April.

But “more than half” of planned WHO missions between last October and the end of March “have been either denied or delayed or face other obstacles so they have to be postponed, so we really need that access”, Jasarevic insisted, amid repeated dire warnings from humanitarians about impending famine in Gaza.

A lack of staff, needles, stitches and other essential medical equipment have meant that “injured children often languish in pain,” in hospitals or in makeshift shelters, noted Tess Ingram, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Communication specialist.

Speaking from Cairo after her latest mission to northern Gaza where her UN vehicle came under attack, Ms. Ingram told journalists that it was notable just how many youngsters had been injured during intense Israeli bombardment, launched in response to Hamas-led terror attacks in southern Israel on 7 October.

“Imagine for a second being strip-searched naked and questioned for hours, told that you’re safe and then you leave; you quickly walk down the street praying that you will be okay. But then you’re shot at, your father is killed and a bullet penetrates your naked pelvis causing serious internal and external injuries that are going to require reconstructive surgery. At a field hospital Younis told me this happened to him. He is 14.”

The UNICEF officer also highlighted how difficult it remains to evacuate desperately injured or sick patients for medical care outside Gaza. Less than half of all “medivac” requests have been approved meaning that only around 4,500 people – “most of them children” – have been able to leave Gaza at a rate of less than 20 a day.

Highlighting the plight of those in Gaza, UN human rights chief Volker Turk on Monday urged “all States with influence” to halt the “increasingly horrific human rights and humanitarian crisis” unfolding there.

“Israel continues to impose unlawful restrictions on the entry and distribution of humanitarian assistance and to carry out widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure,” the High Commissioner for Human Rights maintained, before repeating calls for an immediate ceasefire and the release of all remaining hostages.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights also expressed deep concern about rising violence and “waves of attacks” in recent days against Palestinians in the West Bank “by hundreds of Israeli settlers, often accompanied or supported by Israeli Security Forces (ISF)”.

In a related development in Geneva, the head of a high-level UN-appointed independent rights probe into the Occupied Palestinian Territory spoke of her “serious alarm” at the potential for military escalation between Israel and Iran and the risks of triggering a regional conflict.

In a briefing to Arab League States days after Iran launched a massive drone and missile strike against Israel, Navi Pillay highlighted the “unprecedented” scale of war sustained by Israel.

To date, more than 33,200 people have been killed, according to Gaza’s health authority, Ms. Pillay said, with some 40 per cent of schools directly hit in attacks, and 1.7 million people displaced inside the enclave.

“The complete siege imposed on Gaza since October 2023 has resulted in an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe with famine and starvation now a reality for its residents,” said the head of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel.

“The destruction of roads and infrastructure has severely compromised the ability of humanitarian actors to bring in aid to the population.”

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