Saturday, January 10, 2009

UN rights chief wants investigation of Gaza abuses

The Associated Press
Fri Jan 9, 2009

GENEVA – The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights called Friday for an independent war crimes investigation in Gaza after reports that Israeli forces shelled a house full of Palestinian civilians, killing 30 people.

Navi Pillay told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council that the harm to Israeli civilians caused by Hamas rockets was unacceptable, but did not excuse any abuses carried out by Israeli forces in response.

Pillay went further in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., saying an incident in Gaza City this week "appears to have all the elements of war crimes."

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Israeli troops evacuated Palestinian civilians to a house in the Zeitoun neighborhood on Jan. 4, then shelled the building 24 hours later.

The U.N. agency said 110 people were in the house, according to testimony from four witnesses.

On Thursday, the international Red Cross said the Israeli army refused rescuers permission to reach wounded people in the neighborhood for four days. Israel said the delay was caused by fighting in the area.

Pillay told the Geneva-based rights council that all parties to the conflict had a duty to care for the wounded and avoid targeting health workers, hospitals and ambulances.

Violations of international humanitarian law may amount to war crimes for which individuals should be held accountable, she said.

The 47-member council, which is dominated by Arab and African countries, is debating a resolution condemning Israel for its actions in Gaza. The motion could be delayed until Monday.

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