Israel strikes on Gaza may constitute war crime, says UN rights chief

Flames and smoke rise during Israeli air strikes in Gaza
Flames and smoke rise during Israeli air strikes in Gaza

The United Nations human rights chief has said that Israel’s deadly strikes on Gaza last week may constitute war crimes if they are shown to be disproportionate.

Opening a special session of the UN Human Rights Council, called at the request of Muslim states, Michelle Bachelet questioned Israeli claims that they were solely hitting military targets, saying that she had seen no evidence that civilian buildings in Gaza hit by Israeli strikes were being used by for military purposes.

“If found disproportionate, such attacks might constitute war crimes,” she told the 47-member Geneva forum.

She also urged Hamas militants in Gaza to refrain from firing indiscriminate rockets on Israel.

Ms Bachelet said it was the “most significant escalation of hostilities since 2014” that left devastation and death in the Gaza Strip before a ceasefire last week.

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

“Airstrikes in such densely populated areas resulted in a high level of civilian fatalities and injuries, as well as the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure,” Bachelet said.

“Such attacks may constitute war crimes,” she added, if deemed to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians.

Ms Bachelet also stated that unless the “root causes” of the violence are addressed, “it will certainly be a matter of time until the next round of violence commences with further pain and suffering for civilians on all sides.”

A relative of a Palestinian, who was killed amid a flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence, is comforted as he reacts at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip May 10

Israel has repeatedly denied it targets civilians or that its strikes are disproportionate, saying that the army uses precision weapons and even warning systems to minimise civilian damage.

“The IDF aspires to avoid civilian casualties as [much] as possible,” it said in a statement about a number of bombings on Wehda Street, a heavily populated neighbourhood of Gaza City.

The Israeli army said Hamas bears responsibility for “intentionally locating its military infrastructure under civilian houses, thus exposing civilians to danger”.

Also on Thursday, the UN launched an emergency appeal for $95 million (£67 million) for Gaza for the next three months to meet immediate humanitarian needs and repairs to key facilities.

That includes hospitals, schools, water and sewage facilities and other infrastructure destroyed or damaged.

Lynn Hastings, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Gaza, urged donors to contribute generously at a virtual news conference launching the appeal, which she said will target one million people for assistance.“I’m calling for humanitarian assistance right now to meet the immediate needs,” she said.

Hastings said the conflict left 800,000 people without regular access to piped water. Untreated sewage water was being discharged into the sea and 58 education facilities were damaged, including 285 buildings with over 1,000 housing and commercial units destroyed. Six hospitals and 11 health care centers were also damaged, and electricity was down to four to six hours a day.

UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet

Meanwhile, the Irish parliament has declared the building of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as a de facto annexation, making Ireland the first EU member state to do so.

Israel’s foreign ministry said it “outright rejects” the action, calling it an “outrageous and baseless” motion that “constitutes a victory for extremist Palestinian factions”.

Agencies contributed to this report

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in