GENEVA — (WARSOOR) – The U.N. rights chief said Thursday that Israeli forces may have committed war crimes in the 11-day war with the militant group Hamas that rules the Gaza Strip. Michelle Bachelet also called on Israel to allow an independent probe of military actions in the latest spasm of deadly violence.
The remarks came as the U.N.’s top human rights body opened a one-day special session to discuss the “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 U.N. high commissioner for human rights detailed to the Human Rights Council the “most significant escalation of hostilities since 2014” that left devastation and death in the Gaza Strip before a cease-fire last week.
The 11-day war killed at least 248 in Gaza, including 66 children and 39 women. In Israel, 12 people also died, including two children.
“Air strikes 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. Bachelet urged Israel to ensure accountability, as required under international law in such cases, including through “impartial, independent investigations” of actions in the escalation.
She also derided tactics of Hamas that included locating military assets in densely populated civilian areas, and firing rockets from them.
“These rockets are indiscriminate and fail to distinguish between military and civilian objects, and their use, thereby, constitutes a clear violation of international humanitarian law,” Bachelet said. “However, the actions of one party do not absolve the other from its obligations under international law.”
She cautioned 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.“
The day-long debate involved personal accounts from Palestinians — such as that of a young woman journalist from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem, an early flashpoint that triggered the violence — as well as statements from the council’s 47 member states and also observer states.
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