War crimes likely by both sides in Gaza, says UN
A MUCH-ANTICIPATED United Nations report into the 2014 Gaza war released yesterday found that both Israel and Palestinian militant groups may have committed war crimes during the conflict.
Both Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers quickly rejected the report's findings, which said Palestinian militants targeted civilians in their rocket attacks, while Israeli forces likely used "disproportionate" force in civilian areas of the Gaza Strip - both identified by the UN committee as potential war crimes.
While Israel has long had a difficult relationship with the UN, the stakes now are much higher, as the Palestinians have joined the International Criminal Court and are pursuing war crimes charges against Israel. Yesterday's report could play a key role in the case against Israel.
"The extent of the devastation and human suffering in Gaza was unprecedented and will impact generations to come," said Mary McGowan Davis, the chair of the commission.
"There is also ongoing fear in Israel among communities who come under regular threat."
The war started on July 8, 2014, after the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, as well as the subsequent kidnapping and burning alive of a Palestinian teenager in an apparent revenge attack. Israel responded to the teens' kidnapping by arresting hundreds of Hamas members in raids in the West Bank, prompting militant groups in Gaza to step up their rocket attacks.
More than 2,200 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, were killed during the fighting, according to UN and Palestinian officials, while 73 people, including six civilians, died on the Israeli side.
Israel pre-emptively criticised the report as biased. In particular, Israel took issue with the UN Human Rights Council that commissioned the inquiry, saying it is stacked with countries that focus disproportionate attention on Israel while having poor human rights records themselves.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that throughout the conflict Israel acted according to international law and he criticised the UN Human Rights Council yesterday as a body that does "everything but worry about human rights."
"Israel does not commit war crimes. Israel defends itself against a terrorist organisation that calls for its destruction and carries out many war crimes," Mr Netanyahu said. "We will continue to act forcefully and determinedly against those who seek to harm our citizens and we will do this according to international law."
Hamas was similarly defiant, with senior official Ghazi Hamad saying the UN report created a false balance "between the victims and the killers". He said Hamas rockets and mortars were aimed at Israeli military sites, not at civilians.
Israel has attacked the council's latest investigation since it was ordered last July. Israeli claims of bias forced the head of the investigation, Canadian law professor William Schabas, to resign earlier this year after it was discovered he had provided legal advice to the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Mr Schabas was replaced by Ms Davis, an American jurist.
In its conclusions, the commission said Israel "released insufficient information regarding the specific military objectives of its attacks." It also noted Israel refused to allow its investigators to enter Gaza.
The report also criticised Hamas, saying that its rocket attacks toward Israel "caused immense distress and disruption to the lives of Israeli civilians, especially those living in the southern regions."