Wednesday 21 August, 2019

UN faults Israel over deadly 2018 crackdown on Gaza protests

Israeli soldiers intentionally fired on civilians and could have committed crimes against humanity during a string of crackdowns against Palestinian demonstrators last year in Gaza that left 189 people dead, U.N.-backed investigators said Thursday.

Israel rejected their report as "hostile, false and biased."

The independent Commission of Inquiry mandated by the Human Rights Council said more than 6,000 people were shot by military snipers using live ammunition to repel protesters near the separation fence. The panel showed video of grisly shootings of protesters as it issued a report on the violence that began in March.

The three-person panel said civilians who did not pose an "imminent threat" were among those killed and injured. It acknowledged significant violence linked to the demonstrations, but said they did not amount to combat campaigns, essentially rejecting an Israeli claim of "terror activities" by Palestinian armed groups.

"Between the 30th of March and the 31st of December, we found that 189 Palestinians were killed — 183 of them with live ammunition," said Bangladeshi lawyer and commission member Sara Hossain.

Alluding to Israeli soldiers, she said, "we are saying that they have intentionally shot children, they have intentionally shot people with disabilities, they have intentionally shot journalists."

The panel said Israel needed to do more to allow the injured, even today, to gain access to proper medical care, and urged Israel's government to authorize a "meaningful" investigation into the events.

The commission also faulted Hamas, which runs Gaza, for not preventing use of incendiary kites — low-tech weapons with flaming tails designed to ignite fires — during the protests.

Israel's acting foreign minister said his country "completely rejects the report."

"The Human Rights Council's theater of the absurd has produced another hostile, false and biased report against Israel," said Israel Katz, speaking of his country's right to defend against "a murderous organization" — his government's position on Hamas.

"Nobody can negate Israel's right to self-defense and its duty to defend its citizens and borders against violent attacks," he said.

The report was based on 325 interviews and meetings with victims, witnesses, government officials and members of civil society from all sides, and more than 8,000 documents.

The commission said it heard from 15 contributors from the Israeli side, including non-governmental organizations, but got no cooperation from the Israel government.

The panel said its mandate was to identify those it believed responsible for the violations, and it planned to hand over a confidential file with such information to U.N. human rights chief Michele Bachelet, who could hand it over the International Criminal Court and national authorities.

The Israeli government has repeatedly lambasted alleged bias against Israel by the 47-member Human Rights Council. The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the council last year, citing in part such alleged bias. 

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