Israel's restrictions on humanitarian aid for Gaza may amount to a starvation tactic that could be a war crime, the United Nations human rights chief said on Tuesday.
The stark appraisal followed a UN-backed report on Monday saying famine is likely by May without an end to fighting in the more than five-month war between Israel and Hamas in the Palestinian enclave of 2.3 million people.
"The extent of Israel's continued restrictions on entry of aid into Gaza, together with the manner in which it continues to conduct hostilities, may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war, which is a war crime," said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk.
While aid agencies blame Israel for blockading Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government says it is facilitating aid and the United Nations and relief groups are at fault for any issues over the quantity and pace of delivery.
"Israel, as the occupying power, has the obligation to ensure the provision of food and medical care to the population commensurate with their needs and to facilitate the work of humanitarian organisations to deliver that assistance," Turk said via spokesperson Jeremy Laurence.
Monday's report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) said malnutrition and food insecurity have probably exceeded famine levels in Gaza's north, and hunger-linked death rates were likely to do so soon.
Turk said the crisis was "human-made" and "entirely preventable."
"Everyone, especially those with influence, must insist that Israel acts to facilitate the unimpeded entry and distribution of needed humanitarian assistance and commercial goods to end starvation and avert all risk of famine," he said.
"There needs to be full restoration of essential services, including the supply of food, water, electricity and fuel."
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