IDF soldiers at a temporary checkpoint in the West Bank [File].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
126 countries signatories of the Geneva Convention examined on Wednesday the question of the protection of civilians in the Palestinian occupied territories during a two-hour meeting, and signed a ten-point declaration reaffirming the obligations of both Israelis and Palestinians under the international humanitarian law.
Negotiated in the aftermath of World War II and ratified by 196 countries, the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols lay down the standards of international humanitarian law in time of war and occupation. They aim to limit the barbarity of war and protect those who do not take part in the fighting (civilians, medics, aid workers) and those who can no longer fight (wounded, sick and shipwrecked troops, prisoners of war), the International Committee of the Red Cross explains on its website.
On July 8, 2014, Israel launched an offensive on Gaza with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas. During this offensive Israeli strikes killed more than 2,000 people in the Gaza strip, including a majority of civilians according to the United Nations. Consequently, the Palestinian government once again pushed for a meeting on the issue.
The declaration signed on Wednesday does not create new obligations but reiterates some, such as the "need to fully respect the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law", to prohibit "indiscriminate" and "disproportionate" attacks, the targeting of civilian objects, such as schools, or placing military objective in the "vicinity of civilians and civilian objects". The text also emphasizes the signatories' "deep concern" about "the impact of the continued occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the closure of the Gaza strip". The signatories ''reaffirm the illegality of Israeli settlements.''
"This declaration is unprecedented with regard to the detail in which it spells out unlawful conduct and also it is unprecedented with regard to the number of states endorsing the declaration, again 126," Swiss ambassador Paul Fivat told reporters during a news briefing shortly after the end of the meeting.
"This declaration is a signal which is being sent to conflicting parties and especially to the civilian populations that there is a law, international, which is protecting their interests, and the parties have chosen to reiterate what is applicable in this particular conflict," Fivat added. "This is a signal and we can hope that words count, and the parties will be, again, reminded of their obligations," he added.
"It was a conference of parties, not of the parties, as not all the parties were around the table, so it's a conference of parties and the text, the declaration binds only the parties who were here today,'' Fivat explained, adding that it was not "a tribunal," nor a political tribune.
The meeting was harshly criticized by Israel, who boycotted it, as did other nations such as the United States and Canada, which could limit its impact.
The Palestinians relaunched the process in the wake of the Israel-Gaza war last summer. They claim that Israeli strikes killed more than 2,000 people in the Gaza strip, including a majority of civilians according to the United Nations. Israel contends that the percentage of civilian casualties is much lower, with some half of those being killed believed to have been armed combatants.