Vedant Patel speaks

U.S. State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel speaks to reporters in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 2024.

(Photo: Yasin Oztürk/Anadolu via Getty Images)

No Outside Probe, US Reiterates as Gazans Reportedly Buried Alive in Mass Grave

"How does it ever make sense that the United States asks the accused party to examine itself?" asked one incredulous reporter.

A Biden administration spokesperson once again brushed off calls for an independent investigation into how hundreds of Palestinians found in mass graves near Gaza hospitals died when asked Thursday about new reports that many of the victims were tortured, summarily executed—and in some cases, buried alive by Israeli invaders.

During a Thursday U.S. State Department press conference in Washington, D.C., a reporter noted Gaza officials' claim that mass grave victims "including children were tortured before being killed" and that "some even showed signs of being buried alive, along with other crimes against humanity."

"What's wrong with an independent, scientific, forensic investigation?"

Noting calls by Palestinian officials and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk for an independent probe into mass graves, the reporter said that "this administration repeatedly said that it asks... the Israeli government to investigate itself."

"How does it ever make sense that the United States asks the accused party to examine itself and provide reports that you have previously said that you actually trust?" the reporter asked State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel. "What's wrong with an independent, scientific, forensic investigation?"

Patel replied: "We continue to find these reports incredibly troubling. And that's why yesterday you saw the national security adviser for this to be thoroughly investigated."

While National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday called reports of mass grave atrocities "deeply disturbing" and said that "we want answers" from Israel, he did not call for an independent investigation.

When the reporter pressed Patel on the legitimacy of asking Israel to investigate itself, Patel said, "we believe that through a thorough investigation we can get some additional answers."

Thursday's exchange followed a similar back-and-forth on Tuesday between Patel and Said Arikat, a journalist for the Jerusalem-based Palestinian news outlet al-Quds who asked about the mass graves.

At least 392 bodies—including numerous women and children—have been found in mass graves outside Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, where Palestinian Civil Defense and other workers have been exhuming victims for nearly a week. Officials believe there are as many as 700 bodies in three separate mass graves.

Based on more recent exhumations, local Civil Defense chief Yamen Abu Sulaiman said during a Wednesday press conference that "we believe that the occupation buried alive at least 20 people at the Nasser Medical Complex."

"There are cases of field execution of some patients while undergoing surgeries and wearing surgical gowns," he stated, adding that some victims showed signs of torture and 10 bodies had medical tubes attached to them.

Gaza Civil Defense official Mohammed Mughier told reporters that "we need forensic examination" to definitively determine the causes of death for the 20 people believed to have been buried alive.

Previous reporting on the mass graves quoted rescue workers who said they found people who were apparently executed while their hands were bound, with some victims missing heads, skin, and internal organs.

Other mass graves have been found in Gaza, most notably on the grounds of al-Shifa Hospital, where Israeli forces last month committed what the Geneva-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor called "one of the largest massacres in Palestinian history."

It's also not the first time there have been reports of Israeli troops burying victims alive during the current war, in which Palestinian and international officials say Israeli forces have killed or wounded more than 122,000 Gazans, including at least 11,000 people who are missing and feared dead. Israeli forces attacking Kamal Adwan Hospital in Beit Lahia last December reportedly bulldozed and buried alive dozens of injured patients and displaced people.

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