The United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has said Israel’s recent attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip that killed more than 200 Palestinians may constitute “war crimes” if they are shown to be disproportionate.
Bachelet’s comments on Thursday came as she opened a special session of the UN Human Rights Council, called at the request of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
The UN official said she had seen no evidence that civilian buildings in Gaza hit by Israeli fighter jets were being used for military purposes.
“If found disproportionate, such attacks might constitute war crimes,” Bachelet told the 47-member Geneva forum. She also urged Hamas, which runs Gaza, to refrain from firing rockets indiscriminately on Israeli territory.
The 11-day offensive on the Gaza Strip, which began on May 10, killed at least 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and wounded more than 1,900 people, according to the health ministry in Gaza.
At least 12 people, including three foreign workers and two children, were killed in Israel by rockets fired by Hamas and other armed groups from Gaza during the same period.
Bachelet pointed out that governmental buildings, residential homes, international humanitarian organisations, medical facilities and media offices had been hit in the enclave of two million people. The UN has dubbed it “the world’s largest open-air prison”.
“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
“There is no doubt that Israel has the right to defend its citizens and residents,” she added. “However, Palestinians have rights too. The same rights.”
The council was debating a draft resolution to launch a broad, international investigation into violations surrounding the latest Gaza violence, but also of “systematic” abuses in the Palestinian territories and inside Israel.