Israel Committed Gaza War Crimes: UN

A United Nations human rights investigator has accused Israel of committing war crimes of the greatest magnitude in Gaza during a deadly offensive in the strip.

"On the basis of the preliminary evidence available, there is reason to reach this conclusion," Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, wrote in an annual report to the UN Human Rights Council cited by Reuters on Thursday, March 19.

More than 1,434 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed and 5,450 wounded 22 days of Israeli attacks in Gaza.

The offensive wrecked havoc on the infrastructure of the densely-populated enclave, leaving tens of thousands of homes and other buildings in ruins.

"If it is not possible to do so (distinguish between military and civilians targets), then launching the attacks is inherently unlawful and would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law," said Falk.

The UN rapporteur accused Israel of violating Geneva Conventions on the protection of civilians during military conflicts.

"(The war was a) massive assault on a densely populated urbanized setting" in which the entire civilian population had been subjected to "an inhumane form of warfare that kills, maims and inflicts mental harm," he wrote.

Israeli soldiers admitted Thursday killing innocent Palestinians in cold blood and ransacked their properties during the Gaza war.

"The lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers," an Israeli squad leader told Haaretz.

Crime Against Humanity

The UN rapporteur said Israel’s maintaining its blockade on Gaza during the onslaught suggested further war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.

"As all borders were sealed, civilians could not escape from the orbit of harm," Falk said.

He said the denial of the Gaza population the right to flee the war zone as refugees may also constitute a crime against humanity.

Israel has been closing Gaza’s crossings to the outside world since Hamas seized control June 2007.

Falk, an American Jewish law professor, called for an independent probe into the war crimes committed in the strip.

"(Israel’s) targeting of schools, mosques and ambulances" and its use of weapons including white phosphorus during the offensive, have to be investigated, he said.

Foreign and Arab doctors documented abnormal injuries suffered by the civilian population of Gaza, accusing Israel of using banned weapons.

Several international rights groups, including Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, have accused Israel of using banned weapons against the densely-populated coastal enclave of 1.6 million.

A coalition of 350 European and Arab civil society organizations has filed a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israel over war crimes in Gaza.

As Israel could evade a trial by the ICC because it has not signed the Rome statutes establishing the international tribunal, Falk suggested the Security Council might set up an ad hoc criminal tribunal to establish accountability for war crimes in Gaza.

On Monday, Falk is to present his report formally to the Human Rights Council, a 47-member forum where Islamic and African countries backed by China, Cuba and Russia have a majority.

Neither Israel nor its chief ally the United States are members.

( and Agencies)

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