The United Nation’s top official on human rights said on Wednesday that Israel’s military assault on the Gaza Strip may constitute “war crimes” for its widespread practice of targeting civilian areas.
After two weeks of bombing, the Israeli assault has now claimed an estimated 680 Palestinians lives. Nearly 70 percent of those, according to UN estimates, are believed to be civilians, including nearly 150 children under the age of sixteen.”There is a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.” –Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Speaking at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the agency’s head, Navi Pillay, described the ongoing situation in the occupied Gaza Strip as both “dreadful and interminable” and said that violence on one side could not, and should not, absolve the other from its own behavior.
Though she acknowledged and condemned those in Gaza who fire crude rockets indiscriminately into Israel, Pillay said such violence does not mean Israel can continue to ignore “its obligations under international law.”
Citing the Israeli military’s widespread practice of targeting civilian homes in densely populated areas as well as the shelling of a well-known hospital in Gaza on Monday, Pillay said “there is a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”
“Civilian homes are not legitimate targets,” Pillay said, “unless they are being used for, or contribute to, military purposes at the time in question.”
Other officials on the council spoke about the growing humanitarian crisis within the sealed-off Gaza Strip.
Lance Bartholomeusz, from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) which operates in Gaza, described the devastating human and physical toll on Gazan civilians living under Israel bombardment and reported that as of Tuesday, as many as 118,000 Palestinians—a full 6 percent of the population—had sought refuge in nearly 80 of the agencies emergency shelters schools.
As others have noted, with the Gaza Strip sealed off from the world on all sides, those trapped inside have “nowhere to run” and “nowhere to hide” to escape from the falling bombs.
“It is evident to those of us on the ground that the situation of the population of Gaza and of Palestine refugees in Gaza has become completely unsustainable,” said Bartholomeusz.
Speaking of ordinary Palestinians in Gaza, he continued, the situation is beyond desperate and “there is a profound crisis of confidence in the ability of international law and international mechanisms to protect civilians, and to prevent and address violations of international law.”
Israel’s UN ambassador Eviatar Manor responded to the harsh criticisms of its policies by characterizing Pillay’s remarks and OHCHR’s overall condemnation as the council’s “ritual of naming and shaming Israel.”
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