Israeli strikes in Gaza may constitute war crimes, U.N. rights chief says

GENEVA – The head of the United States of America said Thursday that the Israeli forces may have committed war crimes in the eleven days of war with the Hamas militant group that rules the Gaza Strip. Michelle Bachelet too called on Israel for an independent investigation into military actions in the recent spasm of deadly violence.

The remarks came as the United States’ top human rights organization opened a one-day special session to discuss the “grave human rights situation” in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Bachelet said Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket fire during the conflict was also a clear violation of the rules of war.

The United States High Commissioner for Human Rights told the Human Rights Council the “most significant escalation in hostilities since 2014,” which left devastation and death in Gaza the week before a ceasefire.

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

Rahaf Nuseir, 10, watches as she stands in front of the destroyed homes of her family in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip on Friday.Khalil Hamra / AP

“Air strikes in such densely populated areas resulted in high deaths and injuries among civilians and widespread destruction of civil infrastructure,” said Bachelet.

“Such attacks can constitute war crimes,” she added, if viewed as indiscriminate and disproportionate to the civilian population. Bachelet urged Israel to ensure accountability under international law in such cases, including through “impartial, independent investigations” of measures taken in the event of escalation.

It also mocked Hamas’ tactics of locating and firing missiles in heavily populated civilian areas.

“These missiles are indiscriminate and do not differentiate between military and civilian objects. Their use is therefore a clear violation of international humanitarian law,” said Bachelet. “However, the actions of one party do not release the other party from its obligations under international law.”

She warned that it will certainly be a matter of time before the next round of violence begins, with further pain and suffering for civilians on all sides, unless the “root causes” of the violence are addressed. “

The one-day debate included personal reports from Palestinians – such as that of a young journalist from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, an early hotspot that sparked the violence – as well as statements from the 47 member states of the Council and also from observer states.

Adi Vaizel investigates the damage done to his home in Ashkelon, Israel, after it was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip.Amir Cohen / Reuters

The Organization of the Islamic Conference has tabled a resolution which, if adopted by the Council, will constitute an unprecedented level of scrutiny approved by the Council through the establishment of a permanent commission to report on human rights violations in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.

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A vote on the draft resolution was likely to have taken place at the end of the session, which is largely virtual.

Israel – at times supported 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 – labeled a terrorist organization by the US and its allies – had fired 4,400 rockets at Israeli civilians from “Palestinian homes, hospitals and schools.” Each of these missiles is a war crime. “

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

The Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riyadh al-Maliki, wanted to highlight the years of suffering of the Palestinians in the countries controlled or occupied by Israel.

“The Israeli war machine and the terrorism of its settlers continue to target our children, who are subjected to murder, arrest and displacement and who are deprived of a future in which they can live in peace and security,” he said on video.

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