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UN Emergency Session Deals With Gaza Crisis

The U.N.'s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, is calling for an independent investigation into possible war crimes in both Gaza and Israel. She spoke at the opening of an emergency session called by the UN Human Rights Council to discuss the crisis in Gaza.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, did not mince her words. She called the situation in Gaza intolerable. She had harsh words for both sides in the conflict.

She criticized the leaders of Hamas for the harm its rocket fire into Israel is causing civilians. At the same time, she noted that retaliatory air strikes by Israeli forces are exacting an unbearable toll in lives and livelihoods.

"I also wish to underline that action on the part of Israel's opponents that may deliberately put civilians at risk in the Gaza Strip is prohibited under international law," said Pillay. "This would include the use of people as human shields. The vicious cycle of provocation and retribution must be brought to an end."

The High Commissioner deplored Israel's totally unacceptable strikes against clearly marked U.N. facilities where civilians were taking shelter. She said scores of people, including children were wounded in these attacks.

She said the killing and wounding of U.N. workers Thursday by Israeli military led to the U.N.'s decision to suspend its relief operations in the Gaza Strip. She urged both parties to the conflict to live up to their obligations under international humanitarian law. She said they must care for the wounded and not target health workers, hospitals and ambulances.

"Accountability must be ensured for violations of international law," said Pillay. "As a first step, credible, independent, and transparent investigations must be carried out to identify violations and to establish responsibilities. Equally crucial is upholding the right of victims to reparation. I remind this Council that violations of international humanitarian law may constitute war crimes for which individual criminal responsibility may be invoked."

Israel was subjected to a barrage of criticism as state after state accused the government of grossly violating the human rights of the Palestinian people. They condemned Israel for the use of disproportionate force, which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians.

Israel's ambassador in Geneva, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, was unrepentant about his government's actions to protect its civilian population from Hamas rocket attacks.

He blamed Hamas for provoking Israel and for choosing its own military-build-up over the welfare of the Palestinian people.

"Hamas uses the Palestinian population as human shields, hiding in schools, mosques and homes in Gaza, also turning them into ammunition warehouses," said Leshno-Yaar. "For Hamas, a "civilian" is nothing more than a sophisticated and efficient method of warfare and defense."

The Israeli ambassador said negotiations have always been Israel's preferred path. He added a hope that in the aftermath of, what he called the unavoidable military operation in Gaza, a new and peaceful reality would prevail.