Israeli strikes in Gaza could be war crimes, says UN rights chief

Israeli strikes in Gaza could be war crimes, says UN rights chief

GENEVA – The UN rights chief said on Thursday that Israeli forces may have committed war crimes during the 11-day war with the militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip. Michelle Bachelet also called on Israel to allow an independent investigation into military actions in the latest spasm of deadly violence.

The remarks came as the main United Nations human rights body opened a special one-day session to discuss “the grave human rights situation” in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. -Is. Bachelet said indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas during the conflict was also a blatant violation of the rules of war.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights detailed to the Human Rights Council “the most significant escalation of hostilities since 2014” which has wreaked havoc and deaths in the Gaza Strip before a cease-fire last week.

The 11-day war killed at least 248 in Gaza, including 66 children and 39 women. In Israel, 12 people also died, including two children.

Rahaf Nuseir, 10, looks on Friday outside his family’s destroyed homes in Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip.Khalil Hamra / AP

“Air strikes in such densely populated areas have resulted in high numbers of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure,” Bachelet said.

“Such attacks can constitute war crimes,” she added, if they are deemed indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians. Bachelet urged Israel to ensure accountability, as required by international law in such cases, including through “impartial and independent investigations” into escalating actions.

She also derided Hamas’s tactics of locating military assets in densely populated civilian areas and firing rockets from them.

“These rockets are indiscriminate and do not distinguish between military and civilian objects, and their use, therefore, constitutes a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law,” Bachelet said. “However, the actions of one party do not relieve the other of its obligations under international law.”

She warned that unless we address the “root causes” of the violence, “it will certainly only be a matter of time before the next wave of violence begins with further suffering and suffering for civilians in the country. all sides ”.

The one-day debate focused on personal accounts from Palestinians – such as that of a young female journalist from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, one of the first hot spots that sparked the violence – as well as statements of the 47 Member States of the Council and also of the Observer States. .

Adi Vaizel examines the damage to his home in Ashkelon, Israel, after being hit by a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip.Amir Cohen / Reuters

The Organization of the Islamic Conference presented a resolution which, if adopted by the Council, would mark an unprecedented level of scrutiny authorized by the Council by establishing a standing committee to report on human rights violations in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

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A vote on the draft resolution probably took place at the end of the session, which is largely virtual.

Israel – sometimes backed by the United States – accuses the council of anti-Israel bias and has generally refused to cooperate with its investigators.

Israeli Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar said Hamas – designated a terrorist organization by the United States and its allies – had fired 4,400 rockets at Israeli civilians from “Palestinian homes, hospitals and schools.” Each of these rockets constitutes a war crime. “

“What would you do if rockets were fired at Dublin, Paris or Madrid,” she asked.

Riad al-Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, sought to highlight the years of suffering of Palestinians in lands controlled or occupied by Israel.

“The Israeli war machinery and the terrorism of its settlers continue to target our children who face killings, arrests and displacement, deprived of a future in which they can live in peace and security,” he said. he declared by video message.