GENEVA - Israel should investigate all alleged violations committed by its forces during three recent wars in Gaza and ensure military commanders are brought to justice for any crimes, a U.N. human rights watchdog said on Thursday.
A panel of independent experts urged Israel to halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, stop confiscating land for their expansion, prevent violence against Palestinians and take measures to withdraw all settlers.
Punitive demolitions of Palestinian and Bedouin homes in the West Bank and Israeli Negev desert, and forced evictions and transfers of these populations should be halted, they said.
The U.N. Human Rights Committee, chaired by British expert Sir Nigel Rodley, issued its conclusions and recommendations after examining Israel's compliance with an international treaty on civil and political rights.
Israel's latest land and aerial attacks on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in July-August caused a “disproportionate number of casualties among civilians, including children”, the panel said.
More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in the 51-day conflict, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel.
Israel launched the offensive with the stated aim of halting repeated militant rocket attack out of Gaza and to destroy tunnels built underneath the border area, which Hamas Islamist fighters used to stage attacks.
It was the third major conflagration in just seven years.
“(Israel) should ensure that all human rights violations committed during its military operations in the Gaza Strip in 2008-2009, 2012 and 2014 are thoroughly, effectively, independently and impartially investigated, that perpetrators, including, in particular, persons in positions of command are prosecuted and sanctioned...,” the committee of 18 experts said.
Israel says its army regularly investigates accusations of wrong-doing levelled against its troops. It also accuses Hamas of committing repeated war crimes. However, there was no immediate comment by Israel on the U.N. panel's 10-page findings, submitted to the government hours before.
The U.N. experts reiterated that Israel's obligations to uphold the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also applied to the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, in line with a ruling by the International Court of Justice.
Israel disagrees and in its written report to the panel did not respond to its questions on the Palestinian territories.
The U.N. panel said settlement construction had “more than doubled” since 2010 and said this had to stop.
Successive Israeli governments have said major settlement blocs, deemed illegal under international law, will remain part of Israel in any negotiated deal with the Palestinians and have shrugged off repeated, widespread criticism of their expansion.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Monday to fast-track plans for 1,000 new settler homes in Israel-annexed East Jerusalem, which Palestinians seek as the capital of a future state which would include the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The U.N. panel also called for an end to Israel's practice of holding Palestinians in administrative detention -- or detention without trial -- and voiced concern at the “fact that in many cases the detention order is based on secret evidence”.
Israeli authorities say administrative detention is used in security-related cases and helps to protect confidential sources from exposure in court.