World

Gaza: Rights experts condemn AI role in destruction by Israeli military

April 15, 2024
A vehicle is driven through the destruction in Khan Younis. — courtesy UNOCHA/Themba Linden
A vehicle is driven through the destruction in Khan Younis. — courtesy UNOCHA/Themba Linden

NEW YORK — As UN chief António Guterres on Monday reiterated his appeal for “maximum restraint” in the Middle East following Iran’s drone and missile attack on Israel, independent human rights experts said that the alleged use of artificial intelligence on targets in Gaza by the Israeli military had taken an “unprecedented toll” on civilians, housing and services.

“Six months into the current military offensive, more housing and civilian infrastructure has now been destroyed in Gaza as a percentage, compared to any conflict in memory,” said the experts, who included Francesca Albanese, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.

In a statement, the experts estimated that 60 to 70 percent of all homes in Gaza, and up to 84 percent of homes in northern Gaza, had been either fully destroyed or partly damaged.

Such “systematic and widespread destruction” is a crime against humanity, insisted the experts — who are not UN staff and receive no salary for their work - before pointing to “numerous war crimes and acts of genocide”, alleged by Albanese in her report to the Human Rights Council.

“With Israeli public officials joining calls for Palestinians to leave Gaza, to ‘take back Gaza’ to build settlements again, and ostensible enthusiasm expressed by prominent former US government officials for ‘Gaza beachfront’ properties, there is little doubt that Israel’s intent goes far beyond the purposes of military defeat of Hamas”, the experts maintained.

Damage to the Strip is estimated at $18.5 billion — 97 percent of the total economy of Gaza and West Bank. More than 70 percent of this estimate is to replace housing, while another 19 percent is the cost of civilian infrastructure, including water and sanitation, power and roads.

“Homes are gone, and with that, the memories, hopes and aspirations of Palestinians and their ability to realize other rights, including their rights to land, food, water, sanitation, health, security and privacy (especially of women and girls), education, development, a healthy environment and self-determination,” said the rights experts.

Inside Gaza at the weekend, thousands of people reportedly tried to head back to their homes in the north of the enclave.

Images from Gaza showed people of all ages thronging along the coastal road to the north, the majority on foot, others on donkey carts.

According to news reports, Israeli tanks blocked the road, forcing Palestinians to turn around.

Other reports indicated that Israeli bombardment continued on Monday across the enclave, with Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza also hit, leaving five dead and dozens wounded.

Latest data from Gaza’s health authorities indicate that more than 33,200 people have been killed in the enclave since Oct. 7, the majority women and children. The Hamas-led attacks in Israel claimed more than 1,250 lives with over 250 taken hostage.

In a related development, the UN World Food Program (WFP) announced on Sunday that it had helped restart bread production Gaza City, after providing fuel and repairs to a bakery’s bread-making machines.

Before constant Israeli bombardment began in response to Hamas-led terror attacks on Oct. 7 in Israel, the Gaza Strip had around 140 industrial bakeries.

In a tweet on X, WFP said that it had delivered fuel to one bakery that had been closed for months, contributing to the desperate humanitarian situation in the north of the enclave, where Gazans have been “largely cut off” from aid.

“WFP will continue to provide wheat four and other resources so that bread can be available — but this quantity will only last four days,” the UN agency said, in a renewed appeal for “safe, sustained and scaled-up access to prevent famine”.

And amid continuing uncertainty about whether Israeli forces might attack Rafah, UN refugee agency (UNHCR) chief Filippo Grandi warned against creating a new displacement crisis from the enclave’s southern-most city into neighboring Egypt.

“Another refugee crisis from Gaza into Egypt — I can assure you having been the head of UNRWA myself — I speak from knowledge — would make the resolution of that Palestinian refugee question and as a consequence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible,” Grandi said, referring to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

“So we must fervently do everything for this not to happen. And this is why we have constantly said the priority is to have access inside Gaza, because that is the only way that we can prevent this from happening.” — UN News


April 15, 2024
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