The United Nations Human Rights Council agreed on Thursday to launch an international investigation into crimes committed during the 11-day conflict between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.
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By a vote of 24 states in favor, nine against, with 14 abstentions, the 47-member forum adopted a resolution brought by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Palestinian delegation to the United Nations.
Addressing the council's special session, Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights said that Israel's deadly strikes on Gaza might constitute war crimes and that Hamas had violated international humanitarian law by firing rockets into Israel.
The decision also authorizes the committee to cover potential human rights violation in Israel itself, including the violence in mixed cities. The committee will therefore be permitted to investigate the escalations starting from April 13, in order to cover events in Sheikh Jarrah and at the Temple Mount.
Israel's Foreign Ministry said that it would refuse to cooperate with the probe. "Israel rejects with disgust the decision adopted today by the Human Rights Council, a hypocritical body with an in-built anti-Israel majority," the statement said.
Israel also boycotted the UN Fact Finding Mission in 2009, headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, following its operation in the Strip in 2008-2009.
The Foreign Ministry also slammed the council's decision for "totally ignoring the firing of 4,300 rockets on Israeli civilians."
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"The IDF acts in accordance with international law to protect the citizens of the State of Israel from Hamas' indiscriminate attacks," the statement continued.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the council's decision "whitewashes a genocidal terrorist organization that deliberately targets Israeli civilians while turning Gaza's civilians into human shields." He ended his statement by saying the investigation "makes a mockery of international law and encourages terrorists worldwide."
Israel's ambassador to the U.S. and the UN, Gilad Erdan, went further by adding that "targeting the one and only Jewish state shows that the UNHRC is a politicized and antisemitic organization focused on advancing its own agenda."
Hamas, who will also be probed, responded to the decision by calling their actions against Israel as "legitimate resistance" and urged "immediate steps to punish Israel."
Meanwhile, the U.S. said it deeply regretted a decision by the U.N. Human Rights Council to launch an international investigation into crimes that may have been committed in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
"The action today instead threatens to imperil the progress that has been made," said the statement issued by the U.S. mission to the UN in Geneva.
The United States, Israel's closest ally, did not sign up to address the council, where it has observer status, appearing to shun the ninth session held on Gaza since 2006.
"Regrettably, the self-professed global champions of human rights continue to shield the occupier from global accountability, and literally provide arms and ammunitions for its widely reported war crimes and crimes of apartheid against the Palestinian people," Pakistan's ambassador to the OIC, Khalil Hashmi, said, speaking on behalf of the Islamic group.
'No evidence' Gaza buildings hosted armed groups
Michelle Bachelet said her office had verified the deaths of 270 Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including 68 children, during violence this month. Most were killed in Hamas-controlled Gaza, where Israel fought militants for 11 days. Hamas rockets killed 12 people in Israel.
Bachelet said "indiscriminate" strikes from rockets launched by Hamas constituted "a clear violation of international humanitarian law" but stressed that Israel's strikes in Gaza, including shelling, missile strikes and attacks from the sea, caused widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and fatalities.
"Despite Israel’s claims that many of these buildings were hosting armed groups or being used for military purposes, we have not seen evidence in this regard," Bachelet said.
"If found to be indiscriminate and disproportionate, such attacks might constitute war crimes," she added.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said: "Israel, the occupation and apartheid authority, continues its crimes, its policies and laws to consolidate a colonial and apartheid system."
The decisions of the committee have no legal standing in and of themselves, but their conclusions can later be used by courts or other international bodies.
Ben Samuels contributed to this report.