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Top UN Rights Official Urges Israelis, Palestinians to Protect Civilians

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, says human rights violations against civilians in the Palestinian Territories and Israel are carried out with impunity. She says civilians bear the brunt of violence and human rights abuse. Arbour presented a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on her four-day mission to Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Lisa Schlein in Geneva reports for VOA.

U.N. human rights chief Louise Arbour criticizes, what she calls, a lack of accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by both the Palestinians and Israelis.

She say she told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that firing Qassam missiles into Israel is a breach of international humanitarian law and the Palestinian Authority had to bring those responsible to justice.

"I stressed that as long as the rockets continue to hit its territory, Israel has the right and indeed the duty to defend its population and to ensure the protection of its citizens and of all those who are within its jurisdiction, control or power," she said. "However, this must be done in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law."

Arbour says she urged Israeli authorities to mount credible investigations into situations where lethal force has been employed, such as the Beit Hanoun killings in the Gaza Strip, where 18 civilians were killed by Israeli artillery. She says this would be central to break the culture of impunity and to solidify the rule of law.

She says the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory is worsening. She says Israel's system of checkpoints and roadblocks seriously curtails the Palestinians right to freedom of movement. She notes civilians are also badly affected by the fiscal crisis caused by policies imposed by Israel and the international community on the Palestinian Authority.

"This has exacerbated the already pervasive conditions of deprivation that Palestinians endure, with virtually every right being affected, adding to the climate of fear and humiliation widely experienced by the Palestinian population," she added. "Overall, I was struck throughout my visit by the sense of vulnerability and abandonment that was expressed to me by virtually all the civilians that I met, both in Israel and the OPT [Occupied Palestinian Territory]."

Since its inauguration in June, the U.N. Human Rights Council has had two special sessions on Gaza. In a statement, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is telling the Council that it is time to focus less on the situation in the Palestinian territories and more on Sudan's conflict-ridden province of Darfur.