UN says Israel should face justice for Gaza protest killings

Rights panel says Israeli forces killed 189 Palestinians in response weekly protests last year

 Palestinian paramedics and journalists carry a  journalist wounded by Israeli fire during a protest by Palestinians along the Gaza-Israel border in the Gaza Strip on October 5th, 2018. Photograph: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

Palestinian paramedics and journalists carry a journalist wounded by Israeli fire during a protest by Palestinians along the Gaza-Israel border in the Gaza Strip on October 5th, 2018. Photograph: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

 

United Nations investigators said on Thursday that Israeli security forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in killing 189 Palestinians and wounding more than 6,100 at weekly protests in Gaza last year.

The independent panel said it had confidential information about those it believes to be responsible for the killings, including Israeli army snipers and commanders, and called on Israel to prosecute them.

“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,” it said.

In a scathing response, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel rejected the report “out of hand” and accused the UN Human Rights Council of hypocrisy and lies fuelled by “an obsessive hatred for Israel”.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said the findings confirmed “what we have always said, that Israel conducts war crimes against our people in Gaza and the West Bank, including in Jerusalem”.

“The International Criminal Court should act immediately and open a probe into the crimes conducted,” he said in a statement.

Protests at the frontier between Israel and the Gaza Strip began in March last year, with Gazans calling on Israel to ease a blockade of the territory and for recognition of the right to return to lands their ancestors fled or were forced to flee when Israel was founded in 1948.

Israel has said its forces opened fire to protect the frontier from incursions and attacks by armed militants. No Israeli soldier was killed at the protests, though four were injured, the panel said.

The latest report to the UN Human Rights Council, covering the period from March 30th-December 31st 2018, was based on hundreds of interviews with victims and witnesses, as well as medical records, video and drone footage, and photographs.

‘War crimes’

UN high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet should share their findings with the ICC, the investigators said in the report. Israel is not a member of the ICC and does not recognise its jurisdiction but the Hague-based court opened a preliminary investigation into allegations of Israeli human rights abuses on Palestinian territory in 2015.

The Gaza Strip, a coastal enclave controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, is home to two million Palestinians.

“Some of these violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity and must be immediately investigated by Israel,” Argentine legal expert Santiago Canton, who led the panel, said in a statement.

“Our investigation found that the demonstrators were overwhelmingly unarmed even if they were not at all times peaceful,” he told a news briefing.

Thirty-five children, two journalists and three “clearly-marked” paramedics were among those killed by Israeli forces, in violation of international humanitarian law, it said.

“We are saying that they have intentionally shot children. They have intentionally shot people with disabilities, they have intentionally shot journalists,” said panel member Sara Hossain, barrister at the supreme court of Bangladesh. “We found that one person, a double amputee, was shot and killed as he sat in his wheelchair. On two separate days, two people visibly walking on crutches, were shot in the head. They were killed,” she added.

Israel says its forces have at times come under gun or grenade attacks during the protests.

“We recommend that the de facto authorities in Gaza stop their use of incendiary kites and balloons,” said panel member Betty Murungi, referring to devices that destroyed some Israeli farmland.

“The call by a UN panel to bring Israeli occupation leaders to justice is evidence that occupation forces conducted crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip,” Hamas official Ismail Rudwan said in Gaza. – Reuters