Israeli forces may have committed war crimes in the 11-day war with the militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip, the UN human rights chief has said.
Michelle Bachelet also called on Israel to allow an independent investigation of military action in the latest deadly events, as required under international law.
The remarks were made as part of a one-day UN discussion of the “the grave human rights situation” in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
Bachelet said Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket fire during the recent conflict was also a clear violation of war rules.
The UN high commissioner for human rights spoke to the Human Rights Council about the “most significant escalation of hostilities since 2014” before the cease-fire last week.
The war killed at least 248 in Gaza, including 66 children and 39 women. In Israel, 12 people died, including two children.
Civilian fatalities and destruction
“Air strikes in such densely populated areas resulted in a high level of civilian fatalities and injuries, and 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.
Bachelet also criticised the tactics of Hamas that included locating military assets in densely populated civilian areas, and firing rockets from them.
She warned 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.”
What Israel and Palestine say
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has presented a resolution that, if passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council, would mark an unprecedented level of scrutiny authorised by the council. It would set up a permanent commission to report on human rights violations in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
Israel 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 organisation by the US and its allies — had fired 4,400 rockets at Israeli civilians from “from Palestinian homes, hospitals, and schools. Each one of these rockets constitutes a war crime”.
“What would you do if rockets were fired at Dublin, Paris, or Madrid?” she said.
Riad al-Maliki, the Palestinian foreign minister, sought to highlight years of suffering by Palestinians in the lands controlled or occupied by Israel.
“The Israeli war machinery and terrorism of its settlers continue to target our children who face murder, arrest and displacement, deprived of a future in which they can live in peace and security,” he said.