Israel’s military actions in the Gaza Strip could amount to war crimes, UN rights chief Navi Pillay has said, as Israel continued pounding Gaza for a 16th day.
Pillay on Wednesday also condemned indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas fighters.
“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told an emergency session on Gaza at the UN Human Rights Council.
Pillay said the killing of civilians in Gaza, especially children, raised concerns over Israel’s precautions and respect for proportionality.
Israel has killed more than 600 Gazans and injured thousands. Two Israeli civilians have been killed by rocket fire into Israel, and 29 Israeli soldiers have died in the assault on Gaza.
Pillay added that Israeli civilians also had a right to live without fear of rocket attacks.
“Once again, the principles of distinction and precaution are clearly not being observed during such indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups,” she said.
The 46-nation council – which is the UN’s top human rights forum – was poised to call for an international inquiry into Israel’s offensive in the Palestinian territories.
The meeting was called by Arab and fellow Islamic nations.
It was set to vote on a resolution lodged by Palestine – which has observer status at the UN – condemning “the widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.
The resolution also called on the international community to “urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry” to investigate “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip”.
The aim, it said, was to “establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible, to make recommendations, in particular, on accountability measures, all with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults”.
The Palestinian foreign minister Riad Malki, speaking at the council, appealed to the international community for Israel to be held accountable for it actions in Gaza.
“How many martyrs must die before Israel puts an end to its aggression?” he said.
The Israeli representative to the UN in Geneva, said Israel’s military “makes great efforts” to minimise civilian casualties and blamed Hamas for “war crimes”.
Eviatar Manor criticised the human rights council for holding the special session, calling the decision “misguided, ill-conceived and counterproductive” to the ceasefire efforts.