World, Middle East

Israel's use of heavy bombs in Gaza raises concerns of possible war crimes: UN Human Rights Chief

Targeting as part of widespread or systematic attack against civilian population, in line with state policy, may 'implicate committing crimes against humanity,' says UN

Peter Kenny  | 19.06.2024 - Update : 19.06.2024
Israel's use of heavy bombs in Gaza raises concerns of possible war crimes: UN Human Rights Chief


Israel appears to have consistently failed to use methods of warfare that avoid or minimize civilian harm in its bombing campaign in Gaza, the UN Human Rights chief Volker Turk said Wednesday.

"The requirement to select means and methods of warfare that avoid or at the very least minimize to every extent civilian harm appears to have been consistently violated in Israel’s bombing campaign," Turk said in a statement.

His remarks came after the UN's Human Rights Office published an assessment on "six emblematic attacks" by Israeli forces in Gaza last year that led to high numbers of civilian fatalities and widespread destruction of civilian objects.

The agency said Israel's military may have repeatedly violated fundamental principles of the laws of war and committed "crimes against humanity" for striking unlawful targets as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population, in line with state or organizational policy.

"Israel's choices of methods and means of conducting hostilities in Gaza since Oct. 7, including through the extensive use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated areas, have failed to ensure that they effectively distinguish between civilians and fighters," said Turk.

218 deaths verified from first attacks

The report details six attacks in which Israel is suspected of using bombs of up to 2,000 pounds (about 910 kilograms) on residential buildings, a school, refugee camps, and a market between Oct. 9 and Dec. 2, said the UN.

"The UN Human Rights Office verified 218 deaths from these six attacks, and said information received indicated the number of fatalities could be much higher," it said.

Turk stressed that civilian lives and infrastructure are protected under International Humanitarian Law.

He noted that international law lays out the clear obligations of parties to armed conflicts that prioritize the protection of civilians.

On Nov. 11, 2023, the Israeli army said that since the start of its operation in Gaza, the country's Air Force had "struck over 5,000 targets to eliminate threats in real-time."

The UN said that by that time, Gaza's Health Ministry had documented the killing of 11,078 Palestinians, with another 2,700 missing and about 27,490 reportedly injured.

At around the time of the attacks, an Israeli army spokesperson was reported to have said that "while balancing accuracy with the scope of damage, right now we're focused on what causes maximum damage," noted the UN.

Another Israeli military official was quoted as saying, "Hamas and the residents of Gaza" are "human beasts" and "are dealt with accordingly. Israel has imposed a total blockade on Gaza. No electricity and no water, just damage. You wanted hell, you will get hell."

While the focus of the report was on Israel, it also highlighted that Palestinian armed groups have continued to fire indiscriminate projectiles toward Israel, inconsistent with their obligations under international humanitarian law, said the UN office.

The report also stressed the obligation to protect civilians and civilian objects by avoiding the location of military objectives in or near densely populated areas.

Israel's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Meirav Eilon Shahar, said after the hearing that the Human Rights Office "has been echoing Hamas narrative and spreading unfounded allegations.

"This report shows the deep-rooted bias against Israel that has existed in OHCHR for decades. Regardless, Israel will continue to operate in accordance with the law, to protect its population against Palestinian terrorists, and bring back home the 120 hostages still held in Hamas’s brutal captivity."

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