'Collective Punishment': Israeli Minister Says No Humanitarian Breaks in Gaza Siege Until Hostages Freed
"No electrical switch will be turned on, no water hydrant will be opened, and no fuel truck will enter," Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz said.
A top Israeli official on Thursday denied pleas to allow humanitarian assistance into a blockaded Gaza as its only power station ran out of fuel and its hospitals struggle to care for the wounded without power.
"Humanitarian aid to Gaza?" Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz posted on social media Thursday morning. "No electrical switch will be turned on, no water hydrant will be opened, and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home. Humanitarian for humanitarian. And no one will preach us morals."
His remarks came as groups including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Amnesty International have asked for fuel aid to Gaza in the midst of a deteriorating humanitarian situation.
"These tactics are war crimes, as is using starvation as a weapon of war."
"Amid news that Gaza's only power plant has run out of fuel, Amnesty urges the Israeli authorities to immediately restore Gaza's electricity supply and lift its inhumane and illegal siege," Amnesty's Middle East and North African offices tweeted Wednesday. "There will be no phone signal, transport, or lights. The blackout will leave Gaza's already depleted hospitals without vital medical equipment at a time when its medics struggle to treat thousands gravely wounded in Israeli attacks."
ICRC regional director Fabrizio Carboni warned that, without fuel, the strip's hospitals risked "turning into morgues."
In response to Katz's statement, former executive director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) Kenneth Roth tweeted that Israel was "continuing to use the collective punishment of civilians as a weapon."
In a statement on Wednesday, HRW director of crisis advocacy Akshaya Kumar affirmed that "depriving the entire population of Gaza of electricity and fuel for the actions of individuals is a form of collective punishment."
"These tactics are war crimes, as is using starvation as a weapon of war," Kumar said.
In her statement, Kumar said that Hamas was also guilty of war crimes in its Saturday attack on Israel that included the killing and kidnapping of civilians.
"Deliberately shooting civilians and taking civilians hostage are war crimes," Kumar said. "The individuals who perpetrated these atrocities should be brought to justice."
The Israeli government said the death toll from Saturday's attack had reached 1,300, and that more than 1,000 had been injured, as The Wall Street Journal reported. In Gaza, the bombing has killed 1,417 and wounded 6,268, even as hospitals struggle to cope.
"Millions of men, women, and children are facing a collective punishment in the form of total siege, indiscriminate bombing, and the pending threat of a ground battle," Doctors Without Borders said in a statement Thursday. "Safe spaces must be established, humanitarian supplies must be allowed into Gaza. The wounded and sick must receive medical care. Medical facilities and personnel must be protected and respected; hospitals and ambulances are not targets."
The group called the siege "unconscionable" and said it followed 16 years of a blockade that had already left the strip's medical centers poorly equipped.
Also on Thursday, a group of U.N. experts said that Israel's bombardment of Gaza amounted to collective punishment, as Reuters reported. The group pointed to the 16-year blockade, as well as five wars, and said that Israel was launching "indiscriminate military attacks against the already exhausted Palestinian people of Gaza."
"There is no justification for violence that indiscriminately targets innocent civilians, whether by Hamas or Israeli forces," the experts said. "This is absolutely prohibited under international law and amounts to a war crime."