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UN: Israel, Hamas May Be Guilty of War Crimes

FILE - U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay attends a news conference at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Dec. 2, 2013.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, says the targeting of civilian infrastructure or the use of civilian structures for military purposes violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law. She warns both Israel and Hamas may be guilty of war crimes in breaching these humanitarian principles. U.N. figures show civilians, including many children and women, account for 74 percent of the more than 1,200 Palestinians who have been killed. Nearly 60 Israelis have been killed, including two civilians.

Civilians are bearing the brunt of the war in Gaza, which is now into its 24th day.

Hundreds of civilian structures have been damaged and destroyed in the Palestinian enclave. The U.N.’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, says homes, hospitals, U.N. schools, and life-sustaining infrastructure, such as the power station, water and sewage services in Gaza are protected under international law.

She says attacks against objects which are being used exclusively for humanitarian assistance may amount to a war crime. She notes 250,000 Palestinians now are sheltering in schools run by UNRWA, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. She calls the shelling by Israel of these schools and the killing and wounding of civilians sheltering there as unconscionable.

She also condemns Hamas’ use of U.N. premises as a repository for weapons, calling this a flagrant violation of the neutrality of U.N. premises.

“Locating rockets in schools and hospitals or even launching these rockets from densely populated areas are violations of international humanitarian law. But, it does not absolve the other party, that is Israel, from not itself observing its obligations under international humanitarian law," she said.

Three kilometer buffer zone in the Gaza Strip that the Israeli army has designated a no-go zone.
Three kilometer buffer zone in the Gaza Strip that the Israeli army has designated a no-go zone.

Pillay says Israel, as an occupying power, has certain obligations toward Palestinians. She says Israel must fulfill its obligation to provide people in Gaza with medical care. It must protect peoples' right to housing, food, and clean water.

While she is critical of Israel’s military actions in Gaza, she also finds grave fault with Hamas. She says she understands Israel’s concerns and its need to protect its people.

“I have condemned the rocket attacks because they are indiscriminate directed at the civilian population and it is a fact that Israeli children have as much right to life as do Gaza children,” she said.

Pillay says both parties to the war must respect the cardinal principle related to the conduct of hostilities. That she says is the principle of distinction, proportionality and precautions.

She says she joins the world in condemning the aggression that is taking place in Gaza and particularly the killing of civilians. She notes both Israel and Hamas present arguments justifying their actions. But, as far as she is concerned, she says what is going on in Gaza is wrong and will always be wrong.