Israel-Hamas war

‘Immense’ scale of Gaza killings amount to crime against humanity, UN inquiry says

Reuters

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‘Immense’ scale of Gaza killings amount to crime against humanity, UN inquiry says

AT NUSEIRAT. Men walk among debris, aftermath of Israeli strikes at the area, where Israeli hostages were rescued on Saturday, as Palestinian death toll rises to 274, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, June 9, 2024.

Abed Khaled/Reuters

Israel's diplomatic mission to the UN in Geneva rejects the findings, while Hamas did not immediately respond to a request for comment

GENEVA, Switzerland – Both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes in the early stages of the Gaza war, a UN inquiry found on Wednesday, June 12, saying that Israel’s actions also constituted crimes against humanity because of the immense civilian losses.

The findings were from two parallel reports, one focusing on the October 7 Hamas attacks and another on Israel’s military response, published by the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI), which has an unusually broad mandate to collect evidence and identify perpetrators of international crimes committed in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel does not cooperate with the commission, which it says has an anti-Israel bias. The COI says Israel obstructs its work and prevented investigators from accessing both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel’s diplomatic mission to the UN in Geneva rejected the findings. “The COI has once again proven that its actions are all in the service of a narrow-led political agenda against Israel,” said Meirav Eilon Shahar, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva.

Hamas did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

By Israel’s count more than 1,200 people were killed and 250 taken hostage in the October 7 cross-border attacks that sparked a military retaliation in Gaza that has since killed over 37,000 people, by Palestinian tallies.

The reports, which cover the conflict through to end-December, found that both sides committed war crimes including torture; murder or willful killing; outrages upon personal dignity; and inhuman or cruel treatment.

Israel also committed additional war crimes including starvation as a method of warfare, it said, saying Israel not only failed to provide essential supplies like food, water, shelter and medicine to Gazans but “acted to prevent the supply of those necessities by anyone else.”

Some of the war crimes such as murder also constituted crimes against humanity by Israel, the COI statement said, using a term reserved for the most serious international crimes knowingly committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilians.

“The immense numbers of civilian casualties in Gaza and widespread destruction of civilian objects and infrastructure were the inevitable result of a strategy undertaken with intent to cause maximum damage, disregarding the principles of distinction, proportionality, and adequate precautions,” the COI statement said.

Sometimes, the evidence gathered by such UN-mandated bodies has formed the basis for war crimes prosecutions and could be drawn on by the International Criminal Court.

Mass killings, sexual violence and humiliation

The COI’s findings are based on interviews with victims and witnesses, hundreds of submissions, satellite imagery, medical reports and verified open-source information.

Among the findings in the 59-page report on the October 7 attacks, the commission verified four incidents of mass killings in public shelters which it said suggests militants had “standing operational instructions”. It also identified “a pattern of sexual violence” by Palestinian armed groups but could not independently verify reports of rape.

The longer 126-page Gaza report said Israel’s use of weapons such as MK84 guided bombs with a large destructive capacity in urban areas were incompatible with international humanitarian law “as they cannot adequately or accurately discriminate between the intended military targets and civilian objects”.

It also said Palestinian men and boys were subject to the crime against humanity of gender persecution, citing cases where victims were forced to strip naked in public in moves “intended to inflict severe humiliation.”

The findings will be discussed by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva next week.

The COI composed of three independent experts including its chair South African former UN human rights chief Navi Pillay was set up in 2021 by the Geneva council. Unusually, it has an open-ended mandate – a fact criticized by both Israel and some of its allies. – Rappler.com

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