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Both Israel, Hamas accused of possible war crimes in hostage release operation

GENEVA  — The Office of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights is accusing both Israel and Hamas of actions that “may amount to war crimes” during Israel’s military operation to secure the release of four hostages in the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza on Saturday.

“We are profoundly shocked at the impact on civilians of the Israeli forces’ operation,” Jeremy Laurence, the high commissioner’s spokesperson, said Tuesday, noting that hundreds of Palestinians, “many of them civilians, were reportedly killed and injured.”

“The manner in which the raid was conducted in such a densely populated area seriously calls into question whether the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution, as set out under the laws of war, were respected by the Israeli forces,” he told journalists in Geneva.

According to Gaza’s Hamas-run Ministry of Health, 274 Palestinians were killed and 698 injured in Nuseirat refugee camp during the Israeli raid.

“Our Office is also deeply distressed that Palestinian armed groups continue to hold many hostages, most of them civilians, which is prohibited by international humanitarian law,” Laurence said. “Furthermore, by holding hostages in such densely populated areas, the armed groups doing so are putting the lives of Palestinian civilians, as well as the hostages themselves, at added risk from the hostilities.

“All these actions, by both parties, may amount to war crimes,” he said.

Responding to criticism of its operation, Israel’s military said it had attacked “threats to our forces in the area,” and that a special forces officer was killed in the operation. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz was more blunt in his rebuke of critics, posting a statement saying, “only Israel’s enemies complained about the casualties of Hamas terrorists and their accomplices.”

Some 120 hostages reportedly remain in Gaza, with 43 pronounced dead. A total of 116 hostages of some 250 that were abducted by Hamas militants during its brutal attack on Israel October 7 have been freed.

“The fact that the four hostages are now free is clearly very good news. These hostages should never have been taken in the first place. That is a breach of international humanitarian law,” Laurence said, adding: “they must be freed — all of them, promptly.”

At the same time, he admonished Palestinian armed groups for “holding hostages in densely populated areas.”

“Not only are the armed groups putting the lives of Palestinians themselves at risk, but they also are putting the lives of the hostages at risk,” he noted.

Responding to the “horrific images of death and devastation” following Israel’s military operation, U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths described the Nuseirat refugee camp as the “epicenter of the seismic trauma that civilians in Gaza continue to suffer.”

“Seeing shrouded bodies on the ground, we are reminded that nowhere is safe in Gaza,” Griffiths said in a social media post. “Seeing bloodied patients being treated on hospital floors, we are reminded that health care in Gaza is hanging by a thread.”

Following the attack on June 8, the World Health Organization conducted an assessment mission to Al Aqsa Hospital in central Gaza. The mission found 270 health workers providing care to an estimated 700 patients. Before the war, Al Aqsa served an estimated 150 inpatient patients daily.