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Israel and Hamas war rages despite U.N. cease-fire demand, as U.N. envoy accuses Israel of genocide in Gaza

U.S. reacts to cancelled Israel meetings
U.S. reacts to cancelled Israel delegation on Rafah offensive 05:37

Despite a United Nations Security Council demand for an immediate cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, the situation in Gaza is so desperate that some teenagers in the decimated Palestinian territory say they hope to be killed swiftly to escape the "nightmare" around them, a spokesman for the U.N. children's agency said Tuesday.

The grim assessment came as the U.N.'s top envoy for human rights in the Palestinian territories said there were "reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel's commission of genocide is met."

Spokesperson James Elder, for the U.N. children's agency UNICEF, told journalists in a video message from Rafah, in southern Gaza, that agency staff held a meeting the previous day with adolescents in the city during which several youths said they were "so desperate for this nightmare to end that they hoped to be killed."

The war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas' unprecedented Oct. 7 terrorist attack, during which Israel says the militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Hamas also seized about 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes around 130 are still held in Gaza, including 33 who are presumed dead.

Rafah Targeted By Israeli Forces
Women mourn over the body of a victim of an Israeli strike, March 26, 2024, in Rafah, southern Gaza. Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty

Israel's retaliatory military campaign has killed more than 32,300 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the enclave's Hamas-run health ministry, which does not distinguish between civilian and militant casualties.

The U.S., working closely with several allies in the Middle East, has been trying to broker a cease-fire and hostage release agreement between Israel and Hamas for months, but those talks have yielded no results in many weeks, and Israel and the U.S. warned that the U.N. Security Council vote to demand an immediate cease-fire on Tuesday would likely hinder the efforts.

Israel and Hamas blame each other for the failure to reach a cease-fire deal. Officials said Tuesday that the talks were continuing, but at least some members of Israel's delegation taking part in negotiations in Qatar were heading home on Tuesday, according to Israel media reports.

U.N. special rapporteur accuses Israel of genocide

In the report from U.N. special rapporteur Francesca Albanese, titled "Anatomy of a Genocide" and set to be submitted on Tuesday to the U.N.'s Human Rights Council, the envoy says "the overwhelming nature and scale of Israel's assault on Gaza and the destructive conditions of life it has inflicted reveal an intent to physically destroy Palestinians as a group."

Muslims observe Ramadan amid tension of Israel-Hamas war 02:36

"Israel's genocide on the Palestinians in Gaza" did not begin on Oct. 7, the report asserts, calling it "an escalatory stage of a longstanding settler colonial process of erasure."  

Israeli representatives did not attend the Human Rights Council session on Tuesday, but the country's diplomatic mission in Geneva, where it convenes, rejected Albanese's findings as Israeli officials have done with previous accusations of genocide in Gaza — including by other U.N. special rapporteurs.

"Instead of seeking the truth, this Special Rapporteur tries to fit weak arguments to her distorted and obscene inversion of reality," the Israeli mission said, reiterating the consistent assertion from Israeli leaders that their war is against Hamas, not Palestinian civilians.

But aid agencies say even civilians who have fled the worst of the ground war continue to suffer, and especially for Gazan children, the impact can be deeply psychological.

Israel and Hamas keep fighting despite U.N. cease-fire demand

Israel continued its bombardment of Gaza on Tuesday, with the health ministry reporting 81 Palestinians killed and 93 injured over the preceding 24 hours alone. Those deaths would have come as and shortly after the U.N. Security Council voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and the release of all remaining hostages.

Hamas also kept up its assault on Israel and Israeli forces, claiming to have launched more rockets at several Israeli communities near the Gaza border and at Israeli soldiers operating inside Gaza on Tuesday.

Israel has lambasted the U.N. resolution — and its close ally the U.S. for declining to veto the measure as it had done with three previous resolutions on Gaza — as a gift to Hamas as it does not directly link the demand for a halt in fighting with the immediate release of the hostages.

The Biden administration's decision to abstain on the vote, which allowed the resolution to pass, increases Israel's political isolation on the world stage over the Gaza war. It prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel a planned visit to Washington by a senior military delegation.

That delegation had been expected to discuss with American officials plans by Israel to launch a military ground operation in Rafah, where as many as 1.5 million people have sought shelter from the war in increasingly dire humanitarian conditions.

U.N. again accuses Israel of obstructing Gaza aid

The U.N. has warned that Gaza is facing a looming famine, spurring increasingly urgent appeals for Israel to open more border crossings and to stop constraining the movement of aid through the Palestinian territory.

The Israelis "have a right to control. They inspect every single gram, liter, kilo of whatever goes into Gaza," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. humanitarian agency, told reporters. "But they cannot say that once it's inside, we leave it with you. They must create this enabling environment that allows us to move it around."

"We need to dispel this notion that their [Israel's] obligation with getting aid in somehow stops with getting a few trucks — a fraction of what is needed — across the border," he said. "That is not correct."

Elder said the Israelis had denied a quarter of the 40 mission requests for aid convoys to reach the decimated north of Gaza since the beginning of the month.

"Now there is an existing old crossing point that could be used in the north 10 minutes from where those people are putting their hands to their mouth pleading for food," he said, referring to the Erez Crossing. "10 minutes. Open that and we could turn this humanitarian crisis around in a matter of days. But it remains closed."

"Let's be clear, life-saving aid is being obstructed, lives are being lost, dignity is being denied," said Elder.

Israeli officials have flatly rejected that anyone is starving in Gaza and denied the allegations that it is hindering the flow of aid into the territory.

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