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Gaza updates: Israel may have broken international law — US

Published May 10, 2024last updated May 11, 2024

The White House has said that Israel may have violated international humanitarian law with US weapons in Gaza. Meanwhile, South Africa has asked the World Court for more measures against Israel. Follow DW for more.

Israeli soldiers operate a military vehicle
Fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants on the outskirts of the southern city of Rafah has raised concerns about an imminent ground operationImage: Amir Cohen/REUTERS
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • A US report has said Israel's offensives in Gaza may have violated international law while using US weapons, but evidence is lacking
  • The UN General Assembly votes to recommend full Palestinian UN membership to the Security Council
  • South Africa seeks new emergency measures against Israel at the International Court of Justice 
  • Germany, EU and UN condemn protests against UNRWA
  • UNRWA agency closes Israeli office temporarily following arson attack
Skip next section France demands immediate halt to Israel's assault on Rafah
May 11, 2024

France demands immediate halt to Israel's assault on Rafah

France has called on Israel to immediately end its military operation in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. 

The French Foreign Ministry said that the operation, which has been underway since the beginning of the week, threatens to create a catastrophic situation for the civilian population in the enclave

The ministry called on Israel to resume negotiations as the only way to achieve the immediate release of the hostages and a lasting cease-fire.

France also reiterated its call on Israel to do everything in its power to ensure the protection of the civilian population and to allow the entry of humanitarian aid in accordance with international law and the demands of the International Court of Justice

Skip next section US: Israel may have breached international law with American weapons
May 11, 2024

US: Israel may have breached international law with American weapons

The Biden administration on Friday said US arms supplied to Israel may have been used in ways that were "inconsistent" with international humanitarian law.

The assessment was part of a National Security Memorandum (NSM) issued by President Joe Biden in February, ordering the US State Department to deliver a report on the issue to Congress.
"Israel has not shared complete information to verify whether US defense articles covered under NSM-20 were specifically used in actions that have been alleged as violations of IHL [international humanitarian law] or IHRL [international human rights law] in Gaza, or in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the period of the report," the State Department report read.

"Nevertheless, given Israel's significant reliance on US-made defense articles, it is reasonable to assess that defense articles covered under NSM-20 have been used by Israeli security forces since October 7 in instances inconsistent with its IHL obligations or with established best practices for mitigating civilian harm."

More than 34,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its operations against the Islamist militant group Hamas, which attacked Israel on October 7, 2023.

The issue of supplying arms has become increasingly fraught in the US, as politicians see themselves caught between an obvious obligation to support a close ally Israel in defending itself and growing public outrage over what many see as the indiscriminate killing of Palestinian civilians. 

'Israel sticks to hard line, despite US objections'

Skip next section Israel and Palestinian Authority voice vastly different reactions to UN vote
May 11, 2024

Israel and Palestinian Authority voice vastly different reactions to UN vote

Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Friday both reacted strongly to the symbolic UN General Assembly vote on Palestinian membership that took place earlier in the day. An overwhelming majority of member states voted in favor of the resolution.

The Palestinian Authority's Foreign Ministry said the vote, "affirms that Palestine meets all the requirements stipulated by the Charter of the United Nations, thus it deserves, and is qualified to obtain, full membership in the United Nations."

Israeli UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan, on the other hand, slammed what he said was a vote "to reward modern-day Nazis with rights and privileges," saying it made him "sick."

Claiming that Hamas would win a vote among Palestinians if it were held today, Erdan told UN members before the vote, "you are about to grant privileges and rights to the future terror state of Hamas." 

"With this new precedent," he continued, "we may see here representatives of ISIS [so-called "Islamic State"] or Boko Haram that will sit among us."

US Deputy UN Ambassador Robert Wood, who earlier said the US would veto the resolution when it arrives in the Security Council, called it "an unproductive text." 

Further, Wood said that while US opposition to the resolution, "does not reflect opposition to Palestinian statehood, it remains the US view that unilateral measures at the UN and on the ground will not advance this goal."  

Skip next section US believes truce deal between Hamas and Israel possible
May 10, 2024

US believes truce deal between Hamas and Israel possible

The United States renewed concern Friday about an Israeli military ground operation in Rafah. 

Fighting intensified around the southern Gaza city earlier this week. Residents described almost constant explosions and gunfire east and northeast of Rafah on Friday, with intense fighting between Israeli forces and militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

"We're obviously watching it with concern, of course, but I wouldn't go so far as to say what we've seen here in the last 24 hours connotes or indicates a broad, large (or) major ground operation," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

He added the United States believes the remaining issues in the cease-fire talks can be solved. 

Kirby said it was "deeply regrettable" that there was "nobody sitting across from tables anymore today."

"We are working hard to try to keep both sides engaged in and continuing the discussion, if only virtually, and to continue to work on the actual text itself," he said.

"We still believe that a deal was possible."

On Thursday, representatives of Hamas and Israel left Cairo after two days of talks aimed at securing a truce.

Earlier this week, Hamas accepted a Qatari-Egyptian cease-fire deal that would end the war and bring about the phased release of some of the Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

Israel rejected the deal, saying it did not meet "core demands." 

Skip next section South Africa seeks new ICJ emergency measures against Israel
May 10, 2024

South Africa seeks new ICJ emergency measures against Israel

South Africa requested that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Friday order additional emergency measures against Israel regarding its recent attacks on Rafah, Gaza's southern city. 

In the ongoing case brought by South Africa, which accuses Israel of acts of genocide against Palestinians, the World Court in January ordered Israel to take all measures within its power to prevent its troops from committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. It also instructed Israel to take action to protect Palestinian civilians from further harm and allow humanitarian aid to enter the territory.

In filings published Friday, South Africa is seeking additional emergency measures in light of the ongoing military action in Rafah, which it calls the "last refuge" for Palestinians in Gaza.

In February, South Africa proceeded to file an additional petition, asking the ICJ to review the legality of Israel's planned military offensive in Rafah. The UN's top court then rejected the request.

In its new request, the ICJ said in a Friday statement, South Africa "states that the provisional measures previously indicated by the court are 'not capable of fully addressing the changed circumstances and new facts on which the request is founded'."

Skip next section Hamas says truce talks back to square one after Israel rejection
May 10, 2024

Hamas says truce talks back to square one after Israel rejection

The Palestinian, militant group Hamas said on Friday that efforts to reach a truce were back to square one after Israel effectively rejected a proposal by mediators.

"Israel’s rejection of the mediators’ proposal through the amendments it made returned things to the first square," Hamas said. The group added that it will hold consultations with Palestinian factions to review negotiation strategies.

Talks have recently intensified in an effort to reach a deal that would halt the fighting in the Gaza Strip and see Israeli hostages released. Cairo-hosted talks over the past two weeks were mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the US.

On Monday, Hamas said it had agreed to a proposal by Qatari and Egyptian mediators. However, Israel said the Hamas proposal contained elements it cannot accept, and on Tuesday took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing on the Egyptian border.

"In the light of [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s behavior and rejection of the mediators’ document and the attack on Rafah and the occupation of the crossing, the leadership of the movement will hold consultations with the brotherly leaders of the Palestinian factions to review our negotiation strategy," the Hamas statement read.

Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the US, Germany and other countries.

Skip next section Germany, EU and UN condemn protests against UNRWA
May 10, 2024

Germany, EU and UN condemn protests against UNRWA

Berlin, Brussels and the United Nations condemned on Friday the violent protests against the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA)in east Jerusalem.

"Israel must ensure the protection of UN facilities and personnel in the occupied Palestinian territories," the German foreign ministry said on X, formerly Twitter. "The UN need to be able to serve their important mandate in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem."

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the attack.

"Targeting aid workers and humanitarian assets is unacceptable, and must stop," he said on X.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell joined in the chorus of condemnation, calling for holding to account the perpetrators.

"It is Israel’s responsibility to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers," Borrell said, adding that "UNRWA is an irreplaceable lifeline to millions in Gaza and the region."

UNRWA late on Thursday that it would be closing its headquarters in East Jerusalem temporarily, after reporting two fires set by protesters in the space of a week on the premises.

Skip next section Police clear student encampments in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts
May 10, 2024

Police clear student encampments in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts

Police in the United States broke up student sit-ins at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania, arresting dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters on Friday.

Around 40 students were arrested on the two campuses, with riot police flattening the encampments.

MIT President Sally Kornbluth said in a statement that the 10 people arrested on Friday "peacefully" handed themselves over to police. 

She nevertheless defended her decision to involve the police, saying the arrests came after escalating clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protesters.

"It was not heading in a direction anyone could call peaceful," she said, adding that "the cost and disruption for the community overall made the situation increasingly untenable."

At Penn University, Interim President J. Larry Jameson had said on Monday that "every day the encampment exists, the campus is less safe," citing reports of harassing and threatening speech, the defacement of campus landmarks, and a video of a student being denied entry to the encampment.

Student protests against the war in Gaza have spread over the past few weeks across various campuses in the US and Europe.

Since arrests started at the Columbia University campus in New York some three weeks ago, over 2,500 students have been arrested in the US.

Protesters are calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, as well as urging their universities to divest from Israel and companies which support its war efforts.

Skip next section UN General Assembly backs Palestinian bid for membership in symbolic vote
May 10, 2024

UN General Assembly backs Palestinian bid for membership in symbolic vote

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly on Friday approved a resolution that would grant new "rights and privileges" to Palestine by a vote of 143 to 9 with 25 abstentions. The vote also recognizes Palestine's right to become the 194th member of the body.

This second part means that a Palestinian membership bid will be forwarded to the UN Security Council to "reconsider the matter favorably." A Palestinian bid submitted to the Security Council last month was vetoed by the United States despite widespread support in the General Assembly.

US Deputy UN Ambassador Robert Wood said ahead of the vote the US would repeat its veto.

Should Palestine become a full member it would effectively acknowledge Palestinian statehood, something that Israel has fought to keep from happening. 

Read more about the vote by clicking here

Skip next section Israeli tanks surround eastern half of Rafah
May 10, 2024

Israeli tanks surround eastern half of Rafah

Israeli tanks have reportedly captured the main road that divides the eastern from the western half of Rafah.

The development means Israeli troops have effectively surrounded the entire eastern side of the city in the southernGaza Strip.

Israeli tanks had already cut off eastern Rafah from the south and captured and closed the only crossing between the Palestinian territory and Egypt.

The militant Islamist group Hamas, which Israel is targeting with its offensive, has said it has ambushed Israel tanks near a mosque in the east of the city, indicating that the Israeli forces have moved in from the east to the fringes of the built-up area

Tens of thousands of people have been forced to take refuge outside the city, which had previously provided shelter to more than a million fleeing fighting in other parts of the enclave.

Israel says it has been forced to assault Rafah, despite much opposition to such a move from within and outside the country, to root out thousands of Hamas fighters it believes to be located in the city.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the EU, the US and several other countries.

'Israel sticks to hard line, despite US objections'


Skip next section UNRWA estimates 110,000 displaced in eastern Rafah
May 10, 2024

UNRWA estimates 110,000 displaced in eastern Rafah

The main United Nations aid agency for Palestinians UNRWA said on Friday that it estimated 110,000 people had been displaced in recent days, mainly from eastern areas of Rafah, a slight increase on its recent assessments. 

It said Israeli bombardment had "intensified," and that forced displacement continued, attached photos of some flat bed trucks filled with multiple people and their belongings. 

Palestinians with their packed belongings, continue to depart from the eastern neighborhoods of the city due to ongoing Israeli attacks in Rafah, Gaza on May 8, 2024.
Many in Gaza have been displaced or have fled more than once in recent monthsImage: Ali Jadallah/Anadolu/picture alliance

"UNRWA estimates around 110,000 people have now fled Rafah looking for safety. But nowhere is safe in the Gaza Strip and living conditions are atrocious. The only hope is an immediate cease-fire," it said. 

The UN had already warned that in the region of a million people had fled to Rafah, which has an estimated population of below 200,000 in more typical times, in the earlier months of fighting. They funneled towards the last major settlement to the south at the border to Egypt as Israel's military operations began to the north.

Skip next section General Assembly to vote again on boosted Palestinian UN status
May 10, 2024

General Assembly to vote again on boosted Palestinian UN status

On Friday, the United Nations General Assembly is scheduled to vote on a motion recommending that the "State of Palestine ... should be admitted to membership of the United Nations." 

It also recommends that the Security Council, which holds the decisive power on membership, "reconsider the matter favorably."

The US vetoed a similar proposal a few weeks ago, saying it did not believe that declaring full or increased status at the UN would help implement a viable two-state solution.

There were enough votes in favor for the motion to have passed, if none of the five permanent members had objected. 

Friday's vote is not binding, but is likely to serve as another barometer of international support for eventual Palestinian statehood. 

It is expected to comfortably secure the two-thirds majority needed for passage, as other similar votes have. 

The "State of Palestine" is currently classified as a non-member observer state at the UN, the same status as the Vatican holds. It achieved this level of recognition in 2012.

The resolution has been submitted by the United Arab Emirates but drafted by Palestinian officials.

You can read more on the debate about whether greater Palestinian recognition at the international level is likely to help halt the fighting or implement any practical changes on the ground here

Skip next section Netanyahu says would fight with 'fingernails' if necessary
May 10, 2024

Netanyahu says would fight with 'fingernails' if necessary

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to strike both an untroubled and a conciliatory tone on the comments from Israel's main ally in on Thursday. 

"If we have to stand alone, we will stand alone. If we need to, we will fight with our fingernails. But we have much more than fingernails," he said in a statement. 

Military officials also sought to play down the potential impact of any changes in weapons deliveries in the short term. 

"The army has munitions for the missions it plans, and for the missions in Rafah, too — we have what we need," top military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said at a press conference. 

Palestinians with their packed belongings, continue to depart from the eastern neighborhoods of the city due to ongoing Israeli attacks in Rafah, Gaza on May 8, 2024.
Civilians, many of whom fled to Rafah earlier in the conflict, were rushing to clear eastern Rafah this weekImage: Ali Jadallah/Anadolu/picture alliance

In a US TV interview, though, Netanyahu also voiced hope that any differences with Biden could be resolved, trying to signal a strong relationship more generally. 

"We've often had our agreements but we've had our disagreements. We've been able to overcome them," he said on the "Dr. Phil Primetime" show. "I hope we can overcome them now, but we will do what we have to do to protect our country."

Israel's military said on Thursday that its forces had killed 50 militants and uncovered 10 tunnel shafts during operations it describes as limited in scope in eastern Rafah this week.

'Israel sticks to hard line, despite US objections'

Skip next section Germany's Pistorius can 'understand' US questions on Israel arms
May 10, 2024

Germany's Pistorius can 'understand' US questions on Israel arms

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, speaking on German TV during his visit to the US this week, hinted that weapons deliveries to Israel were not unconditional and that a broader assault on Rafah might jeopardize them. He stopped short of an explicit warning, however.

This follows US President Joe Biden suggesting some US deliveries could be put on hold, as one shipment was last week, if such an attack materializes.

"Yes, I can understand," Pistorius said on ZDF when asked about Biden's comments this week. 

He said that issues like this were discussed behind closed doors during his talks in the US with his counterpart Lloyd Austin, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, and others.

But Pistorius said that responsibility for such decisions by Germany lay more clearly with the Foreign Ministry and the Chancellery than with his office. 

The defense minister repeated that the "order of the day" in the conflict was to de-escalate it as quickly as possible, a message he had also delivered at the UN. 

Germany has however defended its weapons exports to Israel more generally, including against a challenge at the UN's top court last week, securing a preliminary ruling that its assistance to Israel need not be halted on humanitarian grounds

UN court rules German military aid to Israel can continue

A larger-scale assault on Rafah has not really materialized to date despite months of warnings and threats from all sides. Israel did however launch limited operations this week in the east of the city as cease-fire talks hit another roadblock, renewing the focus on the issue.

Skip next section UNRWA says closing East Jerusalem office after fires laid
May 10, 2024

UNRWA says closing East Jerusalem office after fires laid

The UN agency coordinating aid in the Palestinian territories, UNRWA, said late on Thursday that it would be closing its headquarters in East Jerusalem temporarily. 

UNRWA, or the UN Relief and Works agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, reported two fires set by protesters in the space of a week on the premises. 

"Israeli residents set fire twice to the perimeter of the UNRWA Headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem," agency boss Philippe Lazzarini said online. "This took place while UNRWA and other UN Agencies' staff were on the compound." 

"In light of this second appalling incident in less than a week, I have taken the decision to close down our compound until proper security is restored," he said. 

Israel and the UNRWA have quite frequently been at loggerheads in recent months. 

Israel accused around a dozen members of the agency of participating in or supporting Hamas' October 7 attacks. An independent report, led by French former Foreign Minister Cathine Colonna, recently found "neutrality-related issues" in the group but said Israel had not provided evidence for its most serious allegations. 

Schulze: 'Report shows UNRWA is not part of Hamas'

The agency, the main provider and organizer of Palestinian aid, has long been unpopular in some more nationalist circles in Israel and this has only intensified amid the conflict and the allegations and investigation.

According to Lazzarini, the protests have been relatively regular for two months and were "called by an elected member of the Jerusalem municipality." 

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