Netanyahu gov't weighs sanctions against UN agencies in Israel

UN publishes report with IDF, Hamas, PIJ added to ‘list of shame’ for first time

Guterres says he’s ‘appalled by dramatic increase and unprecedented scale and intensity of grave violations’ against children in Gaza, Israel and West Bank over past year

Displaced children pose standing at their tent on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr festival, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on April 10, 2024 (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)
Displaced children pose standing at their tent on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr festival, marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on April 10, 2024 (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

The United Nations on Tuesday published an annual report on children in armed conflict, which for the first time added the Israeli military, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to its list of worst offenders.

The UN notified Israel of the decision last week, sparking outrage in Jerusalem. The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has discussed far-reaching sanctions against various UN agencies operating in Israel, including the possible expulsion of staff.

The decision to add the IDF to what has become known as “the list of shame” was due to what the report said was its killing and maiming of children and attacking schools and hospitals. Israel asserts that it operates according to international law, taking steps to avoid civilian casualties. It has recognized that innocent Palestinians have been killed in its war against Hamas but points to the terror group’s extensive strategy of embedding itself within civilian infrastructure and its use of civilians as human shields.

Jerusalem fumed over its inclusion on the blacklist, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying last week, “The UN has put itself on the blacklist of history today when it joined the supporters of the Hamas murderers. The IDF is the most moral army in the world and no delusional decision by the UN will change that.”

The practical implications of Israel’s inclusion include the establishment of a “monitoring and reporting mechanism” by the office of Guterres’s special representative for children and armed conflict Virginia Gamba, the Argentinian diplomat who compiled the report. The MRM will be responsible for holding talks with Israeli officials, setting benchmarks for them to meet to ensure that alleged rights abuses against children are being addressed and providing progress reports to the Security Council.

The UN report also listed the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups for killing, injuring and abducting children.

Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught in southern Israel and Israel’s war aimed at dismantling the terror group have led to a 155% increase in grave violations against children, especially from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas in Gaza, said the report signed off by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Guterres said he was “appalled by the dramatic increase and unprecedented scale and intensity of grave violations” against children in the Gaza Strip, Israel and the West Bank, “despite my repeated calls for parties to implement measures to prevent grave violations.”

Guterres said he was shocked by Hamas and Islamic Jihad’s killing, maiming and abduction of children on October 7, saying nothing could justify these “brutal acts of terror.” And he said he was appalled at reports of sexual violence during the attacks which must be investigated.

The magnitude of the Israeli military campaign against Hamas and Islamic Jihad “and the scope of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip have been unprecedented,” he said, reiterating calls for Israel to abide by international law and ensure civilians are not targeted, and that excessive force is not used during law enforcement operations.

Roughly 8,000 children have been killed in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. That figure has not been independently verified and dropped overnight by roughly 6,500 last month, leading to further questions regarding the veracity of the data received from Hamas authorities, which was also used in the UN report on children and armed conflict.

In 2023, the report said, 5,698 grave violations against children were attributed to Israeli forces, 116 to Hamas, 58 to unidentified perpetrators, 51 to Israeli settlers, 21 to Islamic Jihad, 13 to Palestinian individuals, and 1 to Palestinian Authority Security Forces.

Medics prepare premature babies for transport to Egypt after they were evacuated from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City to a hospital in Rafah, Gaza Strip on Nov. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair, File)

It said the process of verifying the attribution of 2,051 other violations is ongoing.

Just in the Gaza Strip, the report said the UN verified the killing of 2,267 Palestinian children. It said some 9,100 children were reported killed in the territory “and verification is ongoing.”

Overall in the Palestinian territories, it said, “some 19,887 Palestinian children were reported killed or maimed and “the reports are pending verification.”

Guterres did, however, welcome an offer by the Israeli government on May 28 to engage with special representative Gamba to develop an action plan.

The United Nations kept the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups on its blacklist for a second year over their killing and maiming of children and attacking schools and hospitals in Ukraine. The UN verified the killing of 80 Ukrainian children and maiming of 419 others by Russian forces and their affiliates last year, most from explosive weapons, the report said.

The UN report found that violence against children caught in multiplying and escalating conflicts reached “extreme levels” in 2023, with an unprecedented number of killings and injuries in crises from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza to Sudan, Myanmar and Ukraine.

Hostages released by Hamas on the fourth day of the ceasefire with Israel are transferred to the Red Cross inside Gaza ahead of their return to Israel via Egypt, November 27, 2023. (Screenshot)

The annual report on Children in Armed Conflict, obtained on Tuesday by The Associated Press, reported “a shocking 21% increase in grave violations” against children under the age of 18 in an array of conflicts, also citing Congo, Burkina Faso, Somalia and Syria.

Sudan, where a war between rival generals vying for power has been raging since 2023, witnessed “a staggering 480% increase in grave violations against children, the report said.

The Sudanese Armed Forces and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces went on the blacklist for killing and injuring youngsters and attacking schools and hospitals — and the paramilitary also for recruiting and using children in military operations and for rape and sexual violence.

By the end of 2023, Guterres said the UN had verified 1,721 grave violations against 1,526 children. “I am appalled by the dramatic increase in grave violations,” he said, especially the recruitment, killing and maiming of children as well as sexual violence and attacks on schools and hospitals.

The growing civil war in Myanmar also saw a 123% increase in grave violations against children and the Myanmar armed forces and related militias and seven armed groups are also on this year’s blacklist. The report said the UN verified 2,799 grave violations against 2,093 children – including 238 killings and 623 injuries attributed to the military and its allied militias.

The United Nations verified 30,705 violations against children in 2023 and 2,285 committed earlier, affecting over 15,800 boys and more than 6,250 girls. Some were subjected to multiple violations, the report said.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gives a press conference on the sidelines of the 2024 United Nations Civil Society Conference at the UN Headquarters in Nairobi on May 10, 2024. (Tony KARUMBA / AFP)

While armed groups were responsible for almost 50% of the grave violations, it said, “government forces were the main perpetrator of the killing and maiming of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access.”

Guterres said the alarming increase in violations is due to “the changing nature, complexity, expansion and intensification of armed conflict, the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians” and infrastructure and other essential buildings, as well as the emergence of new armed groups, acute humanitarian emergencies, and “blatant disregard” for international law.

On a positive note, the secretary-general reported progress in engaging with blacklisted governments and armed groups to protect children. He cited Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, Congo, Iraq, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.

“More than 10,600 children formerly associated with armed forces or groups received protection or reintegration support during 2023,” Guterres said.

He also welcomed Russia’s continued engagement with Gamba “to end and prevent grave violations against children,” and urged its armed forces to develop and sign an action plan.

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