GENEVA/United Nations/Gaza - The UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday launched a probe into Israel’s Gaza offensive, backing efforts by the Palestinians to hold the Jewish state up to international scrutiny.
The 46-member council backed a Palestinian-drafted resolution by 29 votes, with Arab and fellow Muslim countries joined by China, Russia and Latin American and African nations.
The United States was the sole member to vote against, while European countries abstained. Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has warned that Israel may have committed war crimes in its offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Pillay told an emergency debate at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva that Israel had not done enough to protect civilians.
“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay said, citing air strikes and the shelling of homes and hospitals. The killing of civilians in Gaza, including dozens of children, raised concerns over Israel’s precautions and its respect for proportionality, she said. She also condemned Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, and other armed Palestinian groups, for their “indiscriminate attacks” on Israel.
Pillay’s comments, in a debate held at the request of Pakistan, Egypt and the State of Palestine (which has observer status at the UN), were in response to a resolution calling for an investigation into the Gaza campaign, launched on July 8 with the declared objective of halting rocket fire into Israel. The 46-member UN human rights council body has a majority that is pro-Palestinian. Israel only recently rejoined it after a 20-month boycott.
The resolution called for the urgent despatch of “an independent, international, commission of inquiry” to investigate “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip”.
Pillay’s comments were seen as a warning shot to remind Israel of its obligations under international law.
According to Washington Post, more than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the nation’s reserve force, citing regret over their part in a military they said plays a central role in oppressing Palestinians, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.
“We found that troops who operate in the occupied territories aren’t the only ones enforcing the mechanisms of control over Palestinian lives. In truth, the entire military is implicated. For that reason, we now refuse to participate in our reserve duties, and we support all those who resist being called to service,” the soldiers wrote in a petition posted online and first reported by the newspaper.
While some Israelis have refused to serve in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, the military’s structure is such that serving in any capacity forces one to play a role in the conflict, said the soldiers, most of whom are women who would have been exempted from combat.
“Many of us served in logistical and bureaucratic support roles; there, we found that the entire military helps implement the oppression of the Palestinians,” they said.
Meanwhile, an Israeli air strike on the northern Gaza Strip killed five people on Wednesday evening, medics said, as Israel’s army announced two more soldiers had died in fighting. Earlier, Israeli tank fire killed five people, including two children, in southern Gaza, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said, as Wednesday’s body count reached at least 47 Palestinians. A series of other strikes and shellings throughout Gaza brought the total number killed from 16 days of conflict between Israel and Hamas to 678 Palestinians, according to figures from Qudra. Another air strike on Wednesday killed a two-year-old girl, Qudra said. Some 32 people in Israel - two civilians, a foreign worker and 29 soldiers - have been killed during the Jewish state’s operation to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza militants and destroy Hamas tunnels.
Early on Wednesday, the military announced two soldiers had been killed in fighting the night before.
And a foreign worker, whose nationality was not immediately disclosed, died later Wednesday after being hit by a mortar round fired from Gaza, police said.
Rights groups have said that more than 80 percent of Palestinians killed have been civilians, with Gaza-based NGO the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights saying more than 90 were women and more than 160 children.
KERRY SAYS ‘SOME PROGRESS’ IN GAZA TRUCE EFFORTS
Washington’s top diplomat said global efforts to end 16 days of bloodshed in Gaza were progressing Wednesday as the fighting raged on and airlines suspended flights over rocket fears.
As US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN chief Ban Ki-moon held talks in Jerusalem, they appeared cautiously optimistic, saying they had pooled their efforts in the hope of boosting the quest for a truce in a conflict that has claimed 678 lives in Gaza and 32 in Israel.
“We have certainly made some steps forward, but there is still work to be done,” Kerry said as he met the UN chief for the second time this week.
“We are now joining our forces in strength to make a ceasefire as soon as possible,” Ban said, warning there was no time to lose as concern mounted over the rising civilian body count.
The US diplomat offered a similar message to the Palestinians.
“We have in the last 24 hours made some progress in moving toward that goal,” Kerry said after meeting Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, before heading to Tel Aviv for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Britain’s new Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was also expected in the region later on Wednesday for late-night talks with Abbas, the president’s office said.
But neither Israel nor Hamas showed any indication of being ready to cease fire, despite days of diplomatic efforts to coax them into a truce.
Medics said more than 27 people were killed on Wednesday, hiking the Palestinian death toll to 678 with a Gaza-based rights group saying more than 80 percent of them were civilians.
Most of Wednesday’s dead were in Khuzaa on the Israeli border, close to the southern city of Khan Yunis, the scene of very heavy fighting since before dawn.
In Israel, the army confirmed two more soldiers had died in fighting on Tuesday.