GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - United Nations investigators are accusing Israeli soldiers of having intentionally targeted civilians during crackdowns last year in Gaza against weekly Palestinian protests. They say some of the incidents may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. The three-member U.N. Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 Gaza Protests says it will submit its report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March.
The commission says that between March 30 and December 31 of last year, 189 Palestinians were killed and more than 6,000 unarmed demonstrators were shot by Israeli military snipers at the protest sites near the separation fence in Gaza. It reports four Israeli soldiers were injured during the demonstrations.
Commission member Sara Hossain of Bangladesh told VOA there is no justification for the shootings and killings of unarmed Palestinian civilians.
“We are saying that they have intentionally shot children. They have intentionally shot people with disabilities. They have intentionally shot journalists - knowing them to be children, people with disabilities and journalists…and they have been shot at by snipers who also have spotters available with them, who have high, very high-level technology available to see who is out there in the field,” said Hossain.
Israel rejected the report as a "theater of the absurd" and called it "hostile, false and biased."
Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, offered a withering response to UN HRC report, saying, "This council is blinded by hatred of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces."
The U.N. Human Rights Council has come under the spotlight before for what critics charge are anti-Israel views. The United States withdrew from the body last year, citing its “chronic bias against Israel."
It also has also been criticized for having some of the world's worst rights abusers among its 47 members. But the council has commissioned important investigations, including into abuses in Syria and North Korea.
U.N. investigators say they received no cooperation from the Israeli government. They say Israeli authorities have not responded to repeated requests for information and have not allowed them to access either Israel or the occupied Palestinian territory.
As a consequence, they say they have relied on thousands of images and recordings made by demonstrators, the media and Israeli forces. Commission members also conducted 325 interviews with victims, witnesses and other sources, including Israeli non-governmental organizations, and gathered more than 8,000 documents.
Commission Chair Santiago Canton of Argentina said the inquiry finds reasonable grounds to believe Israeli security forces have committed serious violations of human rights under international humanitarian law.
“These violations clearly warrant criminal investigations and prosecutions and we call on Israel to conduct meaningful investigations into these serious violations and to provide timely justice and reparations for those killed and injured,” said Canton.
Israel has accused Hamas, the de facto authority in Gaza, of using the noisy protests as a cover for militants to sneak into Israel. Hamas has said demonstrators were pressing for a "right of return" for descendants of Palestinian refugees to ancestral homes in what is now Israel. It also said people were protesting the blockade of the Gaza Strip and the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.
The report says Hamas encouraged the use of incendiary kites and balloons, causing fear and significant damage to property in southern Israel. It calls on Hamas to put an immediate stop to the practice and to find and bring to justice those responsible for such actions.