UN: Israel may have committed war crimes against Palestinian protesters
Geneva, Feb 28 (IANS) The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry said on Thursday that Israel may have committed war crimes against Palestinian protesters during the 2018 Gaza protests in which 189 Palestinians were killed, mostly by Israeli fire.
Among the deceased were 35 children, three paramedics and two journalists, said the commission in a report which will be presented at the ongoing 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council on March 18 in Geneva, Efe news reported.
"The Commission has reasonable grounds to believe that during the Great March of Return, Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity and must be immediately investigated by Israel," the Chair of the Commission, Santiago Canton, said on the official UN Human Rights Council website.
"There can be no justification for killing and injuring journalists, medics and persons who pose no imminent threat of death or serious injury to those around them. Particularly alarming is the targeting of children and persons with disabilities," said Sara Hossain, a Bangladeshi lawyer and a member of the Commission.
Hossain added that the lives of many youngsters had been changed forever with 122 total amputees having been operated on since March 30, 20 of which were children.
During the 2018 Gaza Protests, a total of 6,106 Palestinians were injured by live ammunition and 3,098 others by "bullet fragmentation, rubber-coated metal bullets or by hits from tear gas canisters," according to the Commission's report.
The report also stressed that only four Israeli soldiers were wounded, while one Israeli soldier died.
The border protests began on March 30 last year as part of the Great March of Return, an action demanding the right of Palestinian refugees and their descendants - who according to the UN make up around two thirds of Gaza's population - to return to their homeland inside what is now Israel.
Israel had accused the Islamist Hamas movement, which has been controlling the coastal enclave since 2007, of using the protests as a cover to damage the border fence, infiltrate Israeli territory and launch attacks.
"The Commission finds that these protests were a call for help from a population in despair," Canton said, adding that "not only Israel but also the de facto authorities led by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have responsibilities towards them".
"The Commission calls on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza and on all three duty bearers to comply with their responsibilities and improve the living situation in Gaza."