Geneva, May 27 (EFE).- Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza may constitute war crimes, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Thursday.
The strikes, which killed 242 Palestinians and displaced 74,000 people, “raise serious concerns of Israel’s compliance with the principles of distinction and proportionality,” she said.
“If found to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians and civilian objects, such attacks may constitute war crimes,” Bachelet said during a Special Session of the Human Rights Council.
Israel’s retaliation to Hamas’ initial attack resulted in extensive civilian deaths and injuries, she said, as well as heavy damage to civilian buildings such as residential homes, medical facilities, international humanitarian organizations and media offices.
“Despite Israel’s claims that many of these buildings were hosting armed groups or being used for military purposes, we have not seen evidence in this regard,” said Bachelet.
The High Commissioner clarified that Hamas’ attacks, which killed at least 10 people in Israel, were indiscriminate and constitute a clear violation of international humanitarian law, “but the actions of one party do not absolve the other.”
Bachelet also compared the differing levels of protection available to civilians on either side of the conflict, pointing out that Israelis have the benefit of the Iron Dome and professional military forces to protect them.
“Palestinian civilians have virtually no protection against airstrikes and military operations carried out in one of the most densely populated areas of the world,” she said.
“They have no place to escape to, due to the Israeli land, air and sea blockade that has been in place for the last 14 years.”
Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Palestinian territories, also highlighted the Palestinians’ “desperate” situation in Gaza, which the UN has deemed uninhabitable.
He also condemned the displacement of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, which contributed to triggering the latest outbreak of violence, as part of Israel’s strategy to increase the number of Jewish settlements — which are illegal accoridng to international law — and claim sovereignty over Palestinian land.
Bachelet welcomed the ceasefire of 21 May, but insisted that the root causes of the violence must be addressed.
“It will sadly be a matter of time until the next round of violence commences,” she said. “There must be a genuine and inclusive peace process to address these root causes and bring the occupation to an end.” EFE