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Israel security forces may be guilty of war crimes over killings of Palestinians in Gaza, UN says

Some 189 were killed and more than 6,100 wounded during clashes in 2018

Tom Batchelor
Thursday 28 February 2019 11:30 GMT
Video shows moment Palestinian man is shot in the back during conflict at Israel border

Israeli security forces may have committed war crimes in their crackdown on Palestinian protests last year that left nearly 200 dead, the United Nations has said.

“The Israeli security forces killed and maimed Palestinian demonstrators who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot, nor were they directly participating in hostilities,” an inquiry by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) found.

Some 189 Palestinians were killed and more than 6,100 wounded during clashes in Gaza in 2018.

Protesters used the demonstrations to call for the easing of an Israeli blockade of the territory and recognition of the right of Palestinian refugees there to return to homes in Israel.

Santiago Canton, chair of the UN commission of inquiry into the protests, said it had “reasonable grounds to believe” that Israeli soldiers “committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law”.

He added: “Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, and must be immediately investigated by Israel.”

Israel, which claimed the protests were used to mask “terror activities” by Palestinian armed groups, dismissed the report and branded the UNHRC as a “theatre of the absurd”.

The country’s acting foreign minister, Israel Katz, said the UN had “produced another hostile, mendacious and slanted report against the State of Israel”.

However the commission said Israeli authorities ignored repeated requests for information and access to both Israel and Gaza.

Palestinian protesters demonstrate near the border with Israel in the northern Gaza Strip last October (Getty)

The investigation focused specifically on demonstrations in the Gaza Strip – referred to as the Great March of Return – which began on 30 March last year.

It found that of the 189 Palestinian deaths, 183 were attributable to Israeli Security Forces.

Thirty-five of these fatalities were said to be children, three were clearly marked paramedics and two were clearly marked journalists.

While those injured by live ammunition numbered 6,106, the commission said a further 3,098 were wounded by bullet fragmentation, rubber-coated metal bullets or by hits from teargas canisters.

The commission said it had reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities despite knowing they were clearly recognisable as not being directly involved in the protest.

But it also blamed Hamas for encouraging or defending use of “indiscriminate incendiary kites and balloons, causing fear among civilians and significant damage to property in southern Israel”.

Israel has consistently defended its use of force as a means of self-defence, pointing to rocket attacks on its citizens in towns close to the Gaza border.

Yet despite some acts of significant violence and Israeli claims of terrorism, the commission found that the demonstrations were civilian in nature and did not constitute military campaigns.

“The onus is now on Israel to investigate every protest-related killing and injury, promptly, impartially and independently in accordance with international standards, to determine whether war crimes or crimes against humanity were committed, with a view to holding accountable those found responsible,” Mr Canton said.

“We also urge the organisers, the demonstrators, and the de facto authorities in Gaza, to ensure that the Great March of Return is entirely peaceful, as it is intended to be.”

Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, should share the findings with the International Criminal Court, investigators said.

The Hague-based court opened a preliminary investigation into allegations of Israeli human rights abuses on Palestinian territory in 2015.

The new UN report’s findings were based on interviews with more than 300 victims and witnesses and 8,000 pieces of evidence, including drone footage.

The Gaza Strip is home to two million Palestinians, the majority of them stateless descendants of people who fled or were driven out of Israel on its founding in 1948.

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