Tear gas canisters are fired by Israeli troops toward Palestinians during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip February 22, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
In a likely war crime, IDF soldiers deliberately shot at children and people with disabilities when it quelled Hamas-led protests on the Gaza border during the last 11 months, a United Nations Human Rights Council commission of inquiry reported on Thursday morning.
IDF soldiers “have intentionally shot children, they intentionally shot people with disabilities, they intentionally shot journalists,” said legal expert Sara Hossain of Bangladesh, who was one of the three investigators on the commission. She spoke at a press conference in Geneva, along with the two other experts who published the report on the Hamas-led protests that began on March 30, which Palestinians call the “Great March of Return.”
The snipers who shot at the protesters had high-level technological equipment, were backed up by tanks and separated from the protesters by a fence, Hossain said.
These are among the reasons that “the commission has reasonable grounds to believe that during the Great March of Return, Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” said Argentinian legal expert Santiago Canton, who chaired the UNHRC’s commission of inquiry into the protests. “Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, and must be immediately investigated by Israel.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the report, saying the UN had set “new records for hypocrisy and mendacity out of an obsessive hatred of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East. It is Hamas, which fires missiles at Israeli citizens, throws explosive devices and carries out terrorist activity during the violent demonstrations along the fence [which should be investigated].”
He added that: “Israel will not allow Hamas to attack Israel’s sovereignty and its people... IDF soldiers will continue to vigorously defend Israeli citizens against attacks by Hamas and the [other] terrorist organizations financed by Iran.”
Canton said that the Gaza border demonstrations were not military operations. The investigation found that the demonstrators were overwhelmingly unarmed, even if they were not always peaceful, he said.
The Gaza border report held both Israeli civilian and military leaders liable for the protest deaths before the International Criminal Court. In addition, it claimed that individual soldiers could also be prosecuted for war crimes along the border.
The report recommended that UN member states consider imposing individual sanctions against Israeli leaders and soldiers. This could include arrests, travel bans or a freeze of financial assets, the commission stated.
It also encouraged member states who are parties to the Rome Statute to arrest or extradite citizens involved in Gaza deaths.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the findings confirmed “what we have always said: that Israel conducts war crimes against our people in Gaza and the West Bank, including in Jerusalem.”
He called on the International Criminal Court to “act immediately and open a probe into the crimes conducted [by Israel].”
The three-person panel investigated the deaths of the 189 Palestinians who were killed during the first nine months of the protests, which have been held on a weekly and sometimes daily basis.
“Israeli security forces killed 183 of these protesters with live ammunition. Thirty-five of these fatalities were children, while three were clearly marked paramedics and two were clearly marked journalists,” the UNHRC report stated.
During that time, the IDF wounded 6,106 Palestinians with live ammunition and another 3,098 Palestinians were wounded by bullet fragmentation, rubber-coated metal bullets or by tear gas canisters, the report stated.
The 22-page document released is an initial summary, with a more full report due out prior to March 18.
The commission said it had “conducted 325 interviews with victims, witnesses and sources, and gathered more than 8,000 documents.”
Israel and Egypt banned its investigators from entering Gaza. All their work was done remotely and without direct conversations with the IDF.
At the press conference, the three-member panel acknowledged that it did not directly know what the IDF’s rules of engagement were, but had gleaned information from an Israeli High Court of Justice case.
The commission called on both Israel and Hamas to halt violence against civilians. The panel, however, said it had focused its work primarily on five Palestinian protest sites along the Gaza border. The report made some mention of Hamas violence against Israel, including the death of an Israeli soldier and the injury of four others.
The IDF has argued that the protests are violent riots designed by Hamas to attempt to infiltrate into Israel. Protesters have thrown Molotov cocktails, burning tires and stones at IDF soldiers. They have also placed explosive devices along the border fence and in some cases used live ammunition.
In addition, Palestinians launched incendiary devices that have landed in southern Israel, burning thousand of acres of fields and forests and endangering civilian lives.
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