Gaza civilian killings during Israeli hostage rescue could be war crimes, UN says

GENEVA — The United Nations human rights office stated on Tuesday that the killings of civilians in Gaza during an Israeli operation to release four hostages, as well as the holding of captives in densely populated areas by armed groups, could constitute war crimes.

Israel reported that the operation, which included an air assault, took place on Saturday in the heart of a residential neighborhood in Gaza’s Nuseirat area. Hamas had reportedly kept the hostages in two separate apartment blocks. According to Gazan health officials, the operation resulted in the deaths of more than 270 Palestinians.

“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,” said Jeremy Laurence, spokesperson for the U.N. human rights office.

Laurence further criticized the practice of holding hostages in densely populated areas by armed groups, stating it “puts the lives of Palestinian civilians, as well as the hostages themselves, at added risk from the hostilities.” He added, “All these actions, by both parties, may amount to war crimes.”

The conflict in Gaza erupted when Hamas fighters attacked Israel on October 7, killing approximately 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures. In response, Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Gaza have resulted in the deaths of more than 37,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave.

Gunmen took around 250 hostages back to Gaza on October 7, over 100 of whom were released in exchange for about 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails during a week-long truce in November. According to Israeli tallies, 116 hostages remain in the coastal enclave, including at least 40 whom Israeli authorities have declared dead in absentia.