Israel 'may have committed war crimes' as one child killed every hour in Gaza over last two days
Israel may have committed war crimes by killing civilians and shelling houses and hospitals during its two-week-old offensive in the Gaza Strip, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said today.
Pillay, opening an emergency debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, also condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars by Palestinian militants into Israel.
Citing cases Israeli air strikes and shelling hitting houses and hospitals in the coastal enclave, she said: "These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.
"Every one of these incidents must be properly and independently investigated," Pillay said in some of her strongest comments on the conflict.
The Geneva rights forum convened the special one-day session at the request of the Palestinians, Egypt and Pakistan.
Israel, which accuses the Council of bias, boycotted the Geneva forum for 20 months, resuming cooperation in October. Its main ally the United States, a member state, has also said Israel is unfairly singled out.
Meanwhile Delta Air Lines and United Airlines suspended service between the US and Israel indefinitely, while Germany's Lufthansa and Air France also suspended flights.
The move came as it was announced that more Gaza children than Palestinian fighters are being killed in the offensive on Gaza, according to the latest United Nations statistics, despite Israel's claims to be waging a targeted military campaign
Gaza's health ministry said yesterday that 580 Palestinians had been killed, including 155 children.
The revelations came as a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed near Israel's main airport , wounding one Israeli and prompting all US and some European and Canadian airlines to cancel flights to Tel Aviv.
It was the latest blow to Israel on a day when it announced that an Israeli soldier went missing following a deadly battle in the Palestinian territory.
Last night, the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said that, as of yesterday morning, 149 children had been killed, compared with 87 confirmed members of armed groups.
Even including unconfirmed combatant deaths, more children would still have died.
The Palestinian monitoring group Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights has given The Daily Telegraph the names of 132 of the dead, all under the age of 18.
In addition, Save the Children said almost a third of those injured were children. Less than a quarter of all casualties are thought to be Hamas militants.
"This is why we described the ongoing operation as a war on children," said Osama Damo, a Save the Children official in Gaza. Dr Ashraf Al-Qidra, a health ministry spokesman, said that 84 women were also among the dead and a total of 3,650 people had been wounded. Yesterday, an air strike destroyed six floors of Salam Tower in the centre of Gaza City, killing at least 11 people including Ibrahim Al-Kilani, a professor of engineering, his wife and their five children.
All had earlier fled from Shejaiya, where more than 70 people died in the biggest Israeli bombardment of the war on Sunday.
The impact of the conflict on children has been brought home in part by social media, which has streamed distressing photographs of small, mutilated corpses around the world. One incident, in which four boys were killed while playing football on a beach, was particularly striking, partly because journalists had been playing with them shortly beforehand and witnessed what had happened.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that investigations of cases where there were similar casualties with no apparent military objective suggested Israel had committed war crimes. "Israeli forces' failure to direct attacks at a military target violates the laws of war," a statement said.
"Israeli forces may also have knowingly or recklessly attacked people who were clearly civilians, such as young boys, and civilian structures, including a hospital – laws-of-war violations that are indicative of war crimes." Israel says that Hamas bears responsibility for civilian deaths because it launches rockets from and stores weapons in civilian areas.
"All civilian casualties are unintended by us, but intended by Hamas," Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said on Sunday. "They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause."
On Monday, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, compared the Hamas rocket attacks, responsible so far for two Israeli civilian deaths, to the Blitz and said the Israeli Defence Forces should win the Nobel Peace Prize "for fighting with unimaginable restraint".
Israel does issue warnings before some buildings are attacked. Inhabitants of a block on Omar Mukhtar Street in Gaza City received a telephone warning and all 200 were able to escape before it was destroyed at 5.30am.
Aid agencies point out that, Palestinians, enclosed by the security fence around Gaza, cannot flee. As of last night, 118,000 people were sheltering at UN schools and other facilities. The UN Relief and Works Agency said a girls' school housing refugees had suffered a "direct hit from Israeli shelling" yesterday. It was unclear if casualties had been inflicted. (©The Daily Telegraph)