UN Rights Chief Says Palestinians, Israelis Feel Abandoned by World

After 5-day visit, Louise Arbour urges int'l community to act against separation fence.

Both Israeli and Palestinian victims of violence feel abandoned by the world, the United Nations' top rights official said in remarks released Friday.

Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said her talks with both Palestinians and Israelis during a five-day visit to Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip made apparent "their profound sense of frustration and abandonment, including a perception that the international community is not doing enough to protect them."

UN officials said Arbour made the comments Thursday in Jerusalem.

Arbour said the situation was particularly acute in Palestinian territories.

"I left Gaza with a sense that the right of its people to physical integrity - their right to life - was particularly imperiled," Arbour said.

"Beit Hanoun is only one case in many," she said of the Israeli artillery attack on the north Gaza village on Nov. 8 that killed 19 members of an extended family in their sleep.

But she also criticized the firing of Palestinian Qassam missiles at Israelis as a breach of international law because they are only used "with the intent to kill and to spread fear without discrimination."

Arbour said she had impressed upon Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the need to step up efforts to end the firing of the homemade rockets at Israeli towns and villages that border Gaza and bring those responsible for the attacks to justice.

However, she reserved most of her criticism for Israel, which continued its offensive in Gaza on Friday aimed at stopping the missiles being launched.

She also criticized the barrier that Israel has built to stop terrorists from crossing from the West Bank into Israel.

"While in the West Bank," Arbour said, "I was struck by the severe impact that the barrier and the system of checkpoints, roadblocks, trenches and earth mounds was having on family life and economic life, indeed, on the quality of life - in short, on human dignity."

The barrier has cut off many Palestinians from farms, jobs, hospitals and other services.

Arbour said other countries should encourage respect for the 2004 World Court advisory opinion that declared the barrier illegal and urged Israel to tear it down.

The Supreme Court in 2005 rejected the opinion, saying it failed to sufficiently consider Israel's security needs.

The international community should at all times advocate the respect of international law, ensuring that treaties, conventions and agreements are respected by all, she said.

Arbour urged Israel to ease restrictions on Palestinians moving from place to place, which she said was compromised particularly in the West Bank, but also affected Palestinians in Gaza and those trying to enter Jerusalem.

She said a lasting solution needs to be grounded on internationally recognized and secure borders for both Israelis and Palestinians, and the respect for Palestinians' right to self-determination.

Arbour's trip provoked criticism from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which called on the Human Rights Council to condemn the Qassam strikes on Sderot.

"While grateful that UN Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour was not injured by a terrorist rocket during her visit today to the Israeli town of Sderot, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies urges that Ms. Arbour urge the UN Human Rights Council to condemn daily terrorist targeting of Israeli civilians," said Wiesenthal Center official Leo Adler.

"While it may have lasted only one day for her, deadly [Q]assam barrages have been a daily threat for more than five years to the citizens of Sderot and surrounding southern Israeli communities."

Arbour also said Palestinians needed to be afforded redress in cases where lethal use of force has been employed. She said Palestinians should be ensured access to legal, independent and transparent investigations.