Israel reacted angrily to accusations by the top human rights official in the United Nations who said that it may have committed war crimes by killing civilians and shelling houses and hospitals during its two-week-old offensive in the Gaza Strip.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, opening an emergency debate at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, also condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars by Palestinian militants into Israel.
Citing cases Israeli air strikes and shelling hitting houses and hospitals in the coastal enclave, she 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," Pillay said in some of her strongest comments on the conflict.
The Geneva rights 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 cooperation in October. Its main ally the United States, a member state, has also said Israel is unfairly singled out.
“Navi Pillay demonstrates once again her unfortunate lack of discernment in grasping real situations in real life,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yigal Palmor said.
“She would be better advised to seek credible first-hand information rather than making intolerably biased statements based on newspaper clippings. Her embarrassingly shallow and populist affirmations may pander to the more obscurantist members of the Human Rights Council but do a huge disservice to actual human rights.”
Israel and the Palestinians accused each other of war crimes at an emergency debate at the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday, and both said their actions during Israel's assault on Gaza were within the rules of international law.
"Israel will destroy Hamas' military infrastructure," Israel's ambassador to the body, Eviatar Manor, told the debate, referring to the Palestinian militant group controlling Gaza. "However, the Gaza residents are not our enemy. Israel is fully committed to international law," he added.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki urged world powers to end what he called Israel's impunity, adding: "Israel must be held accountable for its crimes." His speech was greeted by loud applause.