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Nearly 500 bodies found in mass graves at Gaza hospitals

23/04/24

Recent discoveries in Gaza have exposed the harsh realities of prolonged conflict, revealing mass graves at two prominent medical facilities: the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis and Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. These grim findings have sparked international outrage and prompted calls for an investigation into potential violations of international humanitarian law by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The genocide inflicted on the population of Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces has led to a devastating human toll, with local health officials reporting over 33,360 Palestinians killed and another 75,993 injured across Gaza. [1]

 

Discovery at Khan Younis

In April, following a withdrawal of IDF forces, a mass grave was discovered at the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis. Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud reported from the scene, providing chilling details: “In the hospital courtyard, civil defence members and paramedics have retrieved 180 bodies buried in this mass grave by the Israeli military. The bodies include elderly women, children, and young men,” underscoring the indiscriminate nature of the conflict [1].

In a statement issued late on Saturday, Palestinian emergency services announced: “Our teams continue their search and retrieval operations for the remaining martyrs in the coming days as there are still a significant number of them.” It has not yet been possible to identify the individuals buried in the mass grave by the military, nor is it clear at what point during the Israeli assault they lost their lives. [1]

 

Al-Shifa Hospital: Ground Zero of Tragedy

Similarly, the situation at Al-Shifa Hospital was dire. Over 381 bodies were found in mass graves around the hospital following a brutal two-week siege. According to CNN, a health worker described the horrific conditions, stating, “The occupation forces have ploughed these bodies and buried them in the ground,” illustrating a possible deliberate attempt by the IDF to cover up the scale of the casualties [2].

Accusations of war crimes emerged after the two-week siege rendered specialized facilities within the hospital complex entirely nonfunctional. Motasem Salah, the director of the Gaza Emergency Operations Centre, described the conditions at the large medical centre on Monday as “unbearable.” He noted, “The stench of death is everywhere,” while a digger moved through the debris, and rescue teams extracted decayed bodies from the sand and wreckage.

Salah mentioned that Gaza is short of forensic specialists needed to identify the deceased or to ascertain the causes of death. Consequently, they are dependent on “the expertise of the WHO and OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) delegation,” he stated. [2]

Their efforts are focused on “identifying the decomposed bodies and the body parts that were crushed” using any wallets and documents found, Salah explained. He cautioned that the intensive bombardment by Israel has devastated Gaza’s medical infrastructure, severely depleting the resources needed for rescue and recovery efforts.

 

Impact on Healthcare Systems and Local Communities

The findings at Khan Younis and Al-Shifa have not only overwhelmed healthcare services but have also brought immense sorrow to local communities. Both areas, once beacons of refuge and healing, now symbolize the cruelty and brutality inflicted on the population of Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces.

 

International Reaction and Legal Implications

The international reaction has been one of dismay and strong condemnation. The WHO’s Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, explicitly criticized the militarization of hospitals, stating, “Hospitals should never be militarized,” echoing global calls for respect for the Geneva Conventions [2]. Human rights organizations and international legal experts have highlighted these incidents as indicative of a broader pattern of behaviour by the IDF that may constitute grave breaches of international humanitarian law, including potential war crimes.

Responding to inquiries, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) stated that their operations at Al-Shifa, which they claimed was being used as a “command and control center” by militants, involved engagements with terrorists while avoiding harm to medical staff and patients. They reported capturing approximately 500 suspects and eliminating 200 ‘terrorists’, with many found alongside ‘large quantities of weapons and intelligence documents’.

 

Broader International Reaction and Response

The international response to these discoveries has varied. While some countries and international organizations have expressed horror and called for investigations. Humanitarian organizations have stepped up their calls for the lifting of blockades and for unrestricted access to Gaza to aid in the recovery and rebuilding efforts.

Israel has been undeterred and has committed to extending its ground offensive by moving into Rafah, along the Egypt border, despite international pleas for moderation.

Meanwhile, instead of condemnation, the United States is still supplying weapon packages to Israel even as it advocates for a cessation of the conflict that has lasted six months. On Saturday, the US House of Representatives passed a $95 billion legislative package with wide bipartisan approval, which includes security assistance for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. [1]

 

Reflections on Conflict and Humanity

The mass graves in Khan Younis and Al-Shifa are painful reminders of the human cost of conflict. They challenge the international community to reassess its role in conflict resolution and humanitarian aid. For the people of Gaza, these discoveries are not just news items but deep personal tragedies that resonate through their communities, impacting generations.

The extensive loss of life and the strategic targeting of places like hospitals have sparked intense outrage and international debate about the conduct of the conflict, the rules of war, and the path to peace. As the world watches, the people of Palestine are left to grapple with the immediate impacts of the horrific conflict and the long-term consequences for their community’s future. The devastated community in Gaza continues to mourn the immense loss of life and the destruction of their city with superhuman resolve, awaiting answers and hoping for peace.

 

 

[1] Al Jazeera. (2024.). Nearly 200 bodies found in mass grave at hospital in Gaza’s Khan Younis. [online] Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/4/21/nearly-200-bodies-found-in-mass-grave-at-hospital-in-gazas-khan-younis.

[2] Haq, K.K., Sana Noor (2024). ‘Tell us where our children are?’ First bodies exhumed from mass graves at Al-Shifa Hospital after Israeli siege. [online] CNN. Available at: https://edition.cnn.com/2024/04/09/middleeast/israel-gaza-mass-graves-al-shifa-hospital-intl/index.html.

Tariq Kurd was born and grew up in Hertfordshire. His family is originally from Halabja, Kurdistan but due to periodic migration currently reside across the Baluchistan region.
He has a BA Hons. in History from the Open University. Besides English, Tariq can speak Baluchi and Brahvi, he is also conversant in Persian and Pashto.
His has an eclectic range of interests including military and tribal history. Tariq lives in London and is currently studying Islamic apologetics through the Sapience Institute.