UN rights panel says Israel's Gaza killings might constitute war crimes

The inquiry on the 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory said crimes against humanity might have been committed

epa07388487 Israeli jeep fires tear-gas during clashes after Friday protests near the border between Israel and Gaza Strip, east Gaza, 22 February 2019. According to reports, a 14-years-old boy was allegedly shot dead by Israeli sniper and more than 40 Palestinian protesters were wounded during the clashes along the border between Gaza Strip and Israel. Palestinian protesters call for the right of Palestinian refugees across the Middle East to return to homes they fled in the war surrounding the 1948 creation of Israel.  EPA/MOHAMMED SABER
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A UN rights inquiry says the killing of 189 Palestinians and wounding of more than 6,100 at weekly protests in Gaza last year by Israeli military might amount to war crimes.

"The Israeli security forces killed and maimed Palestinian demonstrators who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot, nor were they directly participating in hostilities," the panel report said.

The panel said the information should be passed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and that the Palestinians at the border did not pose a serious enough threat to warrant the reaction of the Israeli security forces.

"Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity," the chair of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Santiago Canton, said in a statement.

The remarks were made at a press conference from the Commission of Inquiry on 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The panel had confidential information about those believed to be responsible for the killings, including snipers and commanders, which was being given to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet for her to share with the ICC, it said.

The commission criticised the shooting of journalists and paramedics. It said they found thousands of people were injured in the protests, many of them requiring amputations.

The commission said every use of live fire during the protests was unlawful.

Israel completely rejected the allegations in the report. Acting Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz called the findings the "theatre of the absurd".

Critics say Israel has repeatedly used disproportionate force in non-life-threatening situations. They point to the large numbers of unarmed people who have been shot, including women, minors and medics, often while standing hundreds of meters away from the fence.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a statement, stressed Israel's right to self-defense and blamed the Gaza border violence on Hamas, which he accused of firing missiles at Israeli citizens and throwing explosive devices at soldiers.

"Israel will not allow Hamas to attack Israel's sovereignty and its people, and will maintain the right of self-defense," he said.

There was no immediate reaction from Hamas. The rival Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank, welcomed the findings.

"The findings and demands to open an immediate investigation by Israel, the occupying power, is a step in the right direction, yet is not enough for establishing comprehensive accountability," said Ahmad Shami, a spokesman for the Palestinian prime minister. "The international community must take its responsibility and provide international protection for the Palestinian citizens in every inch of Occupied Palestine."

The UN panel also called for people in the Palestinian Territories to cease the use of incendiary flights, either using kites or balloons.

It acknowledged some violence linked to the demonstrations, but said they did not amount to combat campaigns, essentially rejecting an Israeli claim of "terror activities" by Palestinian armed groups.

Protests have been held at the frontier between Israel and the Gaza Strip since last year, calling for the easing of an Israeli blockade of the territory and recognition of the right of Palestinian refugees there to return to homes in Israel.

Last year, the United States quit the UN Human Rights Council, saying it was biased against Israel, and Israel boycotted the Human Rights Council in 2018.