There is a “strong possibility” that both sides in the Israeli-Gaza conflict have violated international humanitarian law and could be guilty of war crimes, the UN’s top human rights official warned Wednesday.
Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, highlighted the high civilian death toll seen in the two-week conflict so far, and in particular the killing of children in the Gaza Strip.
“The hostilities have resulted in the deaths of more than 600 Palestinians, including at least 147 children and 74 women,” she told told a special session of the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Around 74 percent of the total of those killed on both sides so far have been civilians, while thousands more have been injured, she said.
“Those numbers have climbed dramatically since Israel’s ground operations began on 17 July,” added Pillay.
She condemned both the rocket attacks on Israeli civilian populations by Hamas and its allies and questioned whether Israel was doing enough to avoid civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip.
Pillay listed numerous examples where respect for international humanitarian law had been called into question, including the deaths of seven children on a Gaza beach on July 16. Four of the children, aged between nine and 11 and all from the same family, were killed.
UN spokesman: 'Either not enough precautions were taken or the people didn't care' when children were killed.
“Credible reports gathered by my office in Gaza indicate that the children were hit first by an Israeli air-strike, and then by naval shelling. These children were clearly civilians taking no part in hostilities.”
She also referenced the deaths of three more children killed the following day, reportedly by an Israeli drone missile, in the Al-Sabra area of Gaza city while they were playing on the roof of their home.
“These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes. Every one of these incidents must be properly and independently investigated,” Pillay said.
Pillay also said that Israeli civilians “have a right to live without the constant fear that a rocket fired from Gaza may land on their houses or their schools, killing or injuring them”.
Israel: ‘Gaza residents are not our enemy’
Her remarks came as the council was set to vote on a resolution lodged by Palestine condemning Israel’s “gross violations of human rights” since it began its assault on Gaza on July 8 in response to rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.
Eviatar Manor, Israel’s UN ambassador, denied his country has been guilty of human rights abuses.
“Israel will destroy Hamas’ military infrastructure,” he told the Human Rights Council.
“However, the Gaza residents are not our enemy. Israel is fully committed to international law,” he added.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki urged world powers to end what he called Israel’s impunity, adding: “Israel must be held accountable for its crimes.”
His speech was greeted by loud applause.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
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Date created : 2014-07-23