More than 100 countries meeting in Geneva have called on Israel and the Palestinians to respect international humanitarian law protecting civilians in times of war. The United States and Israel boycotted the session.
A declaration adopted by 114 countries at the meeting calls on Israel to refrain from any acts that breach the Geneva Conventions. Such actions, according to the conference declaration include willful killing, torture and unlawful deportation.
Delegates to the Geneva meeting condemned Israel's extra-judicial killings of Palestinians, the closure of occupied territories and its settlement policy.
The Geneva Conventions were signed in 1949 and have been adopted by 189 countries, including Israel. The Jewish state, however, argues that territory it seized in the 1967 Middle East war is disputed rather than occupied land.
The Swiss government, which hosted the conference, denied Israeli accusations that such a meeting politicizes humanitarian law.
Peter Maurer, of the Swiss Foreign Ministry, says the conference declaration is a message to both Israelis and Palestinians to stop exposing civilians to military operations and terrorism. "The importance of the declaration," he said, "is that 114 have subscribed to it and engaged themselves to follow up on the declaration. So, I would imagine there is more political pressure towards an application of the Geneva Convention in the occupied Palestinian territories coming out of this process, then if this process would not have taken place."
Both Israel and the Palestinians defend their positions in the current conflict. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat says he is doing all he can to prevent terrorist attacks against Israel, but he says Israeli military strikes against Palestinians are hurting his efforts.
The Palestinian representative to the United Nations in Geneva, Nabil Ramlawi was unwilling to condemn recent Palestinian suicide bombings. Mr. Ramlawi said, "The Palestinian people have the right to use all means and ways and methods to resist the Israeli occupation in the Palestinian occupied territories, according to the United Nations charter and the United Nations General Assembly's resolution."
Israel's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Yaacov Levy, called the conference a "futile exercise" that could undermine the delicate situation in the Middle East. He said, "This conference will neither solve the humanitarian concerns on the ground, nor contribute to the welfare of the Palestinian population. Furthermore, the declaration contains no reference to the conscious Palestinian decision to resort to violence rather than continue negotiations."
Both Israel and the United States boycotted the meeting saying it would be one-sided and unproductive.