On 28 October Israeli forces began major ground operations in the Gaza Strip, intensifying the risks of atrocities for trapped civilians. Israeli forces have attacked Gaza City from several directions with tanks and armored vehicles, as well as targeted the main road linking Gaza City to the south of Gaza. Intense clashes in the southern and northwestern outskirts of Gaza City are ongoing, posing increased risks to civilians caught in the fighting. During the last major Israeli ground operation into Gaza between July and August 2014, Israeli forces perpetrated numerous international law violations, including likely war crimes.
Meanwhile, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza has escalated, with intensive air raids in recent days that have struck civilian objects protected under International Humanitarian Law (IHL), including residential buildings, mosques and water and sanitation facilities. On 27 October telecommunications across Gaza – including cellular and internet services – were abruptly cut after the bombing of telecommunications infrastructure, effectively cutting all communication from Gaza. The services have been largely restored since then. On 31 October and 1 November air raids on the densely populated Jabalia refugee camp killed and wounded hundreds.
The World Health Organization has also documented over 82 attacks on healthcare facilities in Gaza since 7 October. Following evacuation requests by Israeli authorities, the vicinities of Al Quds and Shifa hospitals have been bombarded. Both hospitals are providing life-saving care for thousands of Palestinians, as well as shelter to those displaced. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has reiterated that “there is nowhere safe for these patients to go” and that any evacuation would “be a death sentence.” Hospitals are protected objects under IHL and airstrikes against them may amount to a war crime. The reported use of human shields in hospitals by Hamas may also amount to a war crime, should recent allegations be verified.
Since 7 October at least 8,525 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including 3,195 children, and over 21,543 injured. Approximately 1,950 people are reported missing and are likely trapped under rubble. Ambulances are increasingly unable to reach injured and trapped civilians as many roads have been destroyed by Israeli airstrikes, while the lack of fuel has forced ambulances to scale back rescue operations. Meanwhile, Hamas has continued to fire indiscriminate rockets toward Israel, with no reported fatalities. According to Israeli authorities, 240 people are still held captive in Gaza, including many children.
During an Emergency Special Session of the UN General Assembly, 121 member states voted in favor of a resolution that called for an immediate “humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.” Amid an ever-worsening humanitarian catastrophe caused by Israel’s ongoing siege, this call must be urgently heeded. Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza and indiscriminate bombardments must cease immediately. Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups must safely and unconditionally release all individuals taken hostage.
On 26 October, following four days of intense fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the RSF took control of the SAF’s 16th Infantry Division Command in Nyala, Sudan’s second largest city. Civil society in Nyala has reported the indiscriminate use of heavy weapons during the clashes, including against civilian infrastructure. The fighting has displaced thousands of civilians and left entire neighborhoods deserted. Ongoing shelling and gunfire leave those remaining in Nyala at risk of being caught in the crossfire.
The RSF’s recent military advancement, under the leadership of Deputy Commander Abdelrahim Dagalo, the brother of RSF Commander “Hemedti,” increases the risk of atrocity crimes across Darfur. With the capture of the 21st Infantry Division Command in Zalingei, Central Darfur, on 31 October the RSF now controls the two largest regional capitals in Darfur. These victories raise the prospect that the RSF will further advance toward the capitals of North Kordofan and North Darfur, where clashes have also intensified in recent days. Abdelrahim Dagalo has already been sanctioned by the United States (US) for his involvement in acts of violence and human rights abuses, including ethnic killings and use of sexual violence.
Since mid-April, the RSF has rampaged through other cities in the Darfur region, including El Geneina and Misterei, and has targeted civilians from Massalit and other non-Arab communities based on their ethnicity. In their fight to preserve and expand control, the SAF and RSF have perpetrated violations that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, including indiscriminate and deliberate attacks against civilians, and widespread rape and sexual violence, among others. Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said last week, “More than six months since the start of the crisis in Sudan, the humanitarian tragedy in the country continues to unfold unabated.” Since mid-April, at least 9,000 people have been killed and 6.7 million displaced.
Amid ongoing fighting, Saudi Arabia, the US and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, acting on behalf of the African Union, have resumed peace talks in Jeddah. The negotiations aim to establish tangible ceasefire commitments, implement confidence-building measures, improve humanitarian access and eventually pave the way for a Sudanese-led political track. Meanwhile, between 23 and 26 October representatives from Resistance Committees, political parties and trade unions convened in Ethiopia to prepare for a “Meeting to Unite Civil Forces to End the War” planned for later this year to discuss political, economic and humanitarian aspects of Sudan’s future.
All parties should immediately stop pursuing their military objectives and participate in the Jeddah peace talks in good faith to work toward a permanent ceasefire and unhindered humanitarian access. All parties to the conflict must respect International Humanitarian Law during military operations, including by ensuring the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Since September, hostilities between forces loyal to the Syrian government and the armed extremist group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) have significantly increased in northwest Syria. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, approximately 120,000 people have been newly displaced, at least 70 civilians killed and 303 injured. Artillery shelling and airstrikes, occurring on a near-daily basis, have hit health facilities, displacement camps, markets, mosques, school, water systems and the main power station in Idlib city.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Syria have warned that these hostilities mark the most significant escalation in violence since 2019. Throughout the protracted conflict in Syria, the government and its allies have regularly launched offensives in the northwest to recapture control of territory in what has long been considered an opposition “stronghold,” with HTS holding most of the territory in Idlib governorate and some surrounding areas. Despite a “demilitarized zone” designated within Idlib governorate by Turkey and Russia in September 2018 and a March 2020 ceasefire agreement, opposition fighters have never entirely withdrawn from the area and regular clashes have continued. Prior to recent escalation, at least 45 civilians were killed and 111 others injured in the region since the beginning of 2023.
In addition to active hostilities across multiple regional frontlines in the country, Syrians continue to be killed, disappeared, tortured, arbitrarily detained, displaced and dispossessed. In northeast Syria, an estimated 50,000 people – mainly women and children – have been trapped in Al Hol and Al Roj camps for over 4 years in squalid living conditions that may amount to cruel and inhuman treatment and outrages on personal dignity, according to the CoI. In a recent global study, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, highlighted ongoing egregious violations in Al Hol and Al Roj, including torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of children. The report noted that no one is free to leave and that no process of law exists to justify detention. The Special Rapporteur has said that, “The conditions of confinement in both camps constitute arbitrary and indefinite mass detention without legal or judicial process,” and concluded that this likely amounts to fundamental breaches of the rights of the child under international law.
All parties to the conflict, particularly in northwest Syria, must uphold their obligations under international law and cease attacks on civilian objects. The UN Security Council must recommit to advancing efforts to bring an end to the nearly 13-year conflict and to the pursuit of accountability for perpetrators of likely atrocities.