Palestine civil defense officials call for investigation of mass graves at Gaza hospitals as Rafah invasion looms and ceasefire talks continue News
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Palestine civil defense officials call for investigation of mass graves at Gaza hospitals as Rafah invasion looms and ceasefire talks continue

Members of the Palestinian Civil Defense, an emergency response group in Palestine, called on the United Nations and the international community to conduct an independent investigation of mass graves at Gaza’s Nasser and al-Shifa hospitals in a press conference on Thursday. The officials also called for a halt to the fighting and for a surge in humanitarian assistance.

The officials said they discovered nearly 400 bodies at mass graves at the Nasser and al-Shifa hospital complexes, two of the largest hospitals in Gaza and where Israel conducted military operations earlier this year. More than half of the bodies could not be identified due to what the officials said was decomposition and mutilation. Of the bodies discovered, 78 were children, and 10 were found with their hands bound.

“All the prior evidence suggests that the Israeli occupation forces committed crimes against humanity, including summary executions, at the Nasser hospital complex,” said Dr. Muhammad Al-Mughair after presenting photos and videos from the scene that showed bodies from the mass graves. Al-Mughair called on the international community to send a delegation of forensics experts to examine and preserve evidence since such facilities were “destroyed all over the Gaza Strip.” 

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, said that he was “horrified” by the reports of mass graves and called for an independent investigation, noting that “given the prevailing climate of impunity, this should include international investigators.” He stressed that hospitals have special protections under humanitarian law and that intentionally killing civilians and detainees is a war crime.

The US, Israel’s closest ally, expressed its own concerns about the reports. State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told the press that reports of mass graves were “incredibly troubling” and that the US was inquiring about it with the Israeli government. Although US officials have urged Israel to “thoroughly and transparently” conduct an investigation, they have faced criticism for declining to call for an international investigation. Experts have expressed doubt that an Israeli investigation, as opposed to an international one, would be productive, with International Crisis Group analyst Mairav Zonszein saying, “It is hard to see any real accountability or change coming out of that.”

Israel denies any wrongdoing related to the hospital graves, with the IDF’s international spokesperson Nadav Shoshani saying that “misinformation is circulating” in a post on X (formerly Twitter). Shoshani insisted that the graves had been dug by Gazans, sharing a video from January, and said, “Any attempt to blame Israel for burying civilians in mass graves is categorically false and a mere example of a disinformation campaign aimed at delegitimizing Israel.”

The discovery of mass graves and subsequent calls for an investigation come as Israel intensifies its military operations in southern Gaza ahead of a potential invasion of Rafah. More than one million people, approximately half of Gaza’s population, are currently sheltering in Rafah. The international community, including the US, has expressed alarm at the prospect of an Israeli invasion, saying such an invasion would exacerbate an already catastrophic humanitarian crisis. Israel claims it needs to invade Rafah to dismantle Hamas operations and free the remaining hostages taken on the October 7 attacks.

Leaders of eighteen countries released a joint statement this week calling on Hamas to release the hostages as part of “the deal on the table” that would include a ceasefire and surge in humanitarian aid. Israel has indicated to Egypt that this is Hamas’s “one last chance” to reach an agreement before they invade Rafah. Hamas says it is reviewing Israel’s proposal, with Hamas political bureau member Khalil al-Hayya telling Al Jazeera that the group is “serious about releasing Israeli captives within the framework of an agreement” that also frees Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, allows the return of Palestinians to northern Gaza, sees the removal of Israeli forces from the territory, and permanently ends the war. The talks, which are being mediated by the US, Egypt, and Qatar, were widely seen as stalled, but US National Security Advisory Jake Sullivan told MSNBC this week that “there is new momentum, new life in these hostage talks.”

Gaza has been decimated in the six months of war, with reports from the BBC and the Guardian showing that at least half of the buildings in the territory have been damaged or destroyed, including entire neighborhoods. Israeli strikes have hit locations including medical facilities and refugee camps, and human rights groups have accused Israel of war crimes. Nearly two million people, 85 percent of the territory’s population, have been displaced by the violence, and more than 34,000 people have been killed—mostly civilians. Survivors face a collapsed medical system and imminent famine.

Palestinian rights groups and President Mahmoud Abbas assert that Israel’s actions amount to genocide. Israel rejects this, but the International Court of Justice (ICJ) still ordered the country to “take all measures within its power” to prevent a “plausible” genocide in Gaza. It also issued a second order with additional emergency provisional measures to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.