Smoke rises after an explosion in Gaza. Photo by Reuters
The United Nations has launched an international inquiry
into human rights violations and crimes that may have been
committed by Israel during its military offensive in the Gaza
The UN Human Rights Council condemned the Israeli assault
which it said had involved "disproportionate and
indiscriminate attacks", including aerial bombing of civilian
areas, collective punishment, and the killing of more than
At the end of an emergency session, the 47-member forum
adopted a resolution presented by Palestinians by a vote of
29 states in favour, 1 against (the United States) with 17
abstentions (including all nine European Union members).
"We came here to try to achieve together with you at least
minimum justice for children who are being dismembered, for
women whose bodies are lying in the streets, to find some
justice for those who are being exterminated," said Ibrahim
Khraishi, ambassador of the Palestinian observer mission to
the UN in Geneva.
Israel and its ally United States rejected the probe, calling
it one-sided and counterproductive amid efforts to clinch a
ceasefire. Israel has observer status at the talks.
Israel ambassador Eviator Manor, in remarks before the vote,
told the forum: "Why does this Council believe that naming
and shaming Israel will get it anywhere?
"Throughout the entire escalation of events, Israel has
always acted with maximum restraint, fully committed to
international law in general and the laws of armed conflict."
Israel had established its own special commission of inquiry
"with a scope beyond what is required under international and
criminal law," Manor said.
"Hamas is the aggressor. Hamas is the one committing war
crimes ... Open your eyes to reality," he said.
POSSIBLE WAR CRIMES
UN High Commissioner Navi Pillay said that Israel may have
committed war crimes by killing civilians and shelling houses
and hospitals during its offensive in Gaza that began on July
She also condemned the firing of rockets and mortars by
Palestinian militants into Israel, saying such acts also
constitute breaches of international law.
Pillay, citing cases Israeli air strikes and shelling hitting
houses and hospitals in the crowded coastal enclave, said:
"These are just a few examples where there seems to be a
strong possibility that international humanitarian law has
been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.
"Every one of these incidents must be properly and
independently investigated," she said.
Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge, said that any warning
by Israel to Gaza residents ahead of strikes must be "clear,
credible and allow sufficient time for people to react".
Gaza fighting continued to rage on Wednesday, displacing
thousands more Palestinians in the battered territory as US
Secretary of State John Kerry said indirect truce talks
between Israel and Hamas had made some progress.
The Geneva forum convened the special one-day session at the
request of the Palestinians, Egypt and Pakistan.
Israel, which accuses the Council of bias, boycotted the
Geneva forum for 20 months, resuming co-operation in October.
Its envoy Manor defended Israel's air strikes and ground
assault on Gaza as being necessary to defend the Israeli
The Council "cannot be supportive of an organisation that is
no different than al-Qaeda, ISIS (Islamic State), Boko Haram,
Hezbollah and other extreme radical Islamist organisations
that negate the very essence of human rights," Manor said.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki hit back, accusing
Israeli forces of perpetrating "heinous crimes" by destroying
whole neighbourhoods and killing entire families.
The U.N. aid agency OCHA said at least five entire families,
with 36 people, had been killed in the past few days.
The United States said that Kerry was seeking to secure an
immediate ceasefire based on the Nov. 2012 ceasefire
U.S. ambassador Keith Harper, calling for a vote, said that
the resolution was "destructive" and a "political and biased
"Once again, this Council fails to address the situation in
Israel and in the Palestinian territories with any semblance
of balance. There is no mention of indiscriminate rocket
attacks by Hamas into Israel or the tunnels used to cause
mayhem," he said. (Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Tom
Miles; editing by Sonya Hepinstall)