The United Nations’ top human rights body has voted to send a team of international war crimes investigators to probe the deadly shootings of Gaza protesters by Israeli forces.
A resolution calling on the UN Human Rights Council to”urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry” was backed on Friday by 29 members.
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Two members – the United States and Australia – voted against and 14 abstained.
Investigators must”investigate all alleged violations and abuses … in the context of the military assaults on large-scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018″, the approved resolution said.
The commission of inquiry will be asked to produce a final report next March.
The 28th Special Session of the Council "Violations of international law in the context of large-scale civilian protests in the #OPT, including East Jerusalem" has concluded.
The draft Resolution has been adopted by 29 votes in favor, 2 against, 14 abstentions. pic.twitter.com/C1MOS6aTPn
— HRC SECRETARIAT (@UN_HRC) May 18, 2018
Earlier on Friday, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN human rights chief, had backed calls for an international probe.
He heavily criticised Israel’s response to the weeks-long mass protests in the Gaza Strip as”wholly disproportionate”.
Israel is an occupying power, and under international law, it is obliged to protect the people of Gaza and ensure their welfare, he said. But instead, Gaza residents have been”caged in a toxic slum from birth to death”, added Zeid.
At least 62 Palestinians were killed, and thousands wounded in a single day of protests on Monday, but al-Hussein pointed out that”on the Israeli side, one soldier was reportedly wounded, slightly, by a stone”.
“There is little evidence of any attempt to minimise casualties on Monday,” said Zeid.
Since protests began on March 30, Israeli forces have killed 106 Palestinians, including 15 children. More than 12,000 have been wounded, at least 3,500 by live ammunition.
Speaking to the session via a video recording, Michael Lynk, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestine, said Israel’s use of force may amount to”a war crime”.
Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, said Palestinians”do not believe they can rely on the US to put any pressure on Israel, so they are turning to international institutions for help.
“They hope an investigation or a fact-finding mission will expose Israel’s tactics in Gaza to more international scrutiny,” he added.
Israel has defended the killing of protesters, saying it was acting in self-defence to protect its borders and communities. In a statement, the Israeli foreign ministry said the council was”dominated by hypocrisy and absurdity”.
Meanwhile, hundreds of protesters in the Gaza Strip continued rallying near the fence with Israel on Friday.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from the protest site, said the atmosphere there was calmer than in recent weeks.
“Protesters burned tyres, some of them tried to hurl stones, but we haven’t seen the tensions we have seen in the past few weeks,” she said.”We’ve seen a little bit of tear gas, but there hasn’t been any gunfire”.
Some two million people live in the Gaza Strip, a coastal territory that shares borders with Egypt and Israel.
Both countries maintain a blockade of Gaza for security reasons, a move the UN said has caused the territory’s economy to collapse.
On Thursday, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said he had ordered the opening of the Rafah border crossing for the holy month of Ramadan”to ensure the easing of the burdens on the brothers in the Gaza Strip”.