Hold Israel accountable, says UN rights chief

Navi Pillay says attacks on Gaza are a "deliberate defiance" of international law as death toll passes 1,400.

Relatives hold down a Palestinian girl being treated at the Kamal Adwan hospital in northern Gaza after she was injured in Israeli shelling on July 30, 2014, that killed 16 people at a crowded UN school used as refugee shelter. Heidi Levine for The National
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GENEVA // Israel is deliberately defying international law in its military offensive in Gaza and world powers should hold it accountable for possible war crimes, the United Nations’ top human rights official said on Thursday.

Israel has attacked homes, schools, hospitals and UN premises in apparent violation of the Geneva Conventions, said Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights.

“Therefore I would say that they appear to be defying ... deliberate defiance of obligations that international law imposes on Israel,” Ms Pillay said.

“What we are witnessing is the killing of entire families, and of children in the street either playing or trying to find safety.”

“Waves and waves of ordinary people continue to flee their homes as the already weak infrastructure in Gaza caves in under the relentless bombardment.”

The Israeli offensive that began on July 8 has killed at least 1,410 Palestinians, and left nearly 7,000 wounded, according to Gaza health officials. UN figures indicate two-thirds of the victims were civilians, nearly half of whom were women and children.

Despite international alarm over the civilian death toll, the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he would not accept any ceasefire that did not allow troops to continue destroying tunnels used by militants to attack Israel.

“Until now, we have destroyed dozens of terror tunnels and we are determined to finish this mission – with or without a ceasefire,” Mr Netanyahu said before a special cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv.

His remarks came after the army confirmed mobilising another 16,000 reservists, hiking the total number called up to 86,000.

Israel says it is acting to stop rocket attacks by Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza, as well as destroy their tunnel network .

Ms Pillay said on Thursday that Hamas militants had also violated international humanitarian law by firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel, sometimes from densely-populated areas.

She also criticised the United States for failing to use its influence to halt the carnage.

“Many of my remarks have been directed to the United States since they are a party with influence over Israel to do much more to stop the killing, to bring the parties to the negotiating table. I’ve called also for an end to the blockade and an end to the occupation.”

Ms Pillay said that she was appalled at Washington consistently voting against resolutions on Israel in the Human Rights Council, General Assembly and Security Council.

“They have not only provided the heavy weaponry which is now being used by Israel in Gaza but they’ve also provided almost $1 billion in providing the ‘Iron Domes’ to protect the Israels from rocket attacks,” she said. “But no such protection has been provided to Gazans against the shelling.”

The United States which said on Wednesday that it had agreed to an Israeli request to restock its dwindling munitions supplies, on Thursday condemned the shelling of a UN school where thousands of Gazans had taken shelter.

A White House spokesman said there appeared to be little doubt the strike on Wednesday that killed 16 people had been carried oput by Israeli artillery and called it “totally indefensible”.

Mr Pillay said she did not expect Israel to investigate properly violations committed during its airstrikes and ground assault on Gaza, now in its fourth week.

“But international law is clear that where a state is unable or unwilling to carry out investigations and prosecutions, the international [criminal justice] system applies,” she said.

Previous UN commissions of inquiry into Israel incursions into Gaza have called for the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, according to Ms Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge.

Palestinian officials said on Thursday that President Mahmoud Abbas was seeking broad political support, including from Hamas, before making any attempt to press possible war crimes charges against Israel.

Mr Abbas is under pressure to turn the International Criminal Court as the death toll in Gaza rises.

Independent legislator Mustafa Barghouti said Mr Abbas had asked for and received written support for such a move from the heads of PLO factions this week. Participants in the meeting said Mr Abbas also wants written support from the Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups, who are vulnerable to war crimes charges because of their indiscriminate rocket fire at Israel.

* Reuters and Agence France-Presse and Associated Press

Navi Pillai profile, w5