There is “little evidence” that Israel made any effort to minimise casualties during Monday’s protests by Palestinians, the UN’s top humans rights official has said.
Stopping short of explicitly using the words “war crimes”, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein warned that “killing resulting from the unlawful use of force by an occupying power may also constitute wilful killings, a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention”.
Mr Zeid is backing calls for an inquiry into the violence, which claimed the lives of around 60 Palestinians, calling Israel’s reaction to the demonstrations at the Gaza border “wholly disproportionate”.
“There is little evidence of any attempt to minimise casualties on Monday,” he said.
Protesters threw petrol bombs, used sling-shots, flew burning kites into Israel, and tried to use wire-cutters on fences, but “these actions alone do not appear to constitute the imminent threat to life or deadly injury which could justify the use of lethal force,” Mr Zeid added
The Israeli ambassador hit back, refuting the claims and saying that Israel worked to minimise casualties when it defended its borders against “terrorists” in Gaza.
Aviva Raz Shechter said that Hamas urges people to act as human shields.
Opening the special session of the UN Human Rights Council that could set up an inquiry into the violence, Mr Zeid sharply criticised Israel.
He said it had systematically deprived Palestinians of their human rights, with 1.9 million in Gaza “caged in a toxic slum from birth to death”.
“Nobody has been made safer by the horrific events of the past week,” he said. “End the occupation, and the violence and insecurity will largely disappear.”
The UN Human Rights Council will discuss whether to send international war crimes investigators to investigate the deadly shootings of Gaza protesters by Israeli forces.
The special session comes after a month and a half of mass protests and clashes along the Gaza border.
The largest demonstrations, on Monday, coincided with America’s controversial decision to move its US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
It also coincided with Nabka Day, on which Palestinians mark the displacement of their people that occurred around the Israeli Declaration of Independence and the 1948 war.
A total of 114 Gazans have been killed in border protests and clashes since 30 March.
Israel has said its actions are necessary to stop mass infiltration from the Palestinian enclave run by Hamas, a group that many Western countries have designated as a terrorist organisation.
The Israeli ambassador said the UN Human Rights Council had returned to its “worst form of anti-Israel obsession”.
“This special session, the resolution before you, and its call for a commission of inquiry are yet again politically motivated and won’t change the situation on the ground by even one iota,” said Aviva Raz Shechter.
The draft resolution said the investigators should look into “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law… in the context of the military assaults on large scale civilian protests that began on 30 March 2018”.
It said the aim should be to “establish the facts and circumstances” around “alleged violations and abuses including those that may amount to war crimes and to identify those responsible”.
The special UN session came at the request of Palestine and the United Arab Emirates, on behalf of Arab countries in the council.
China, France, Brazil, Sweden, and Switzerland were among a total of 51 countries who supported the session.
Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has made a rare decision to open the Rafah crossing with Gaza for a month, allowing Palestinians to cross during the holy period of Ramadan.
The decision to keep the crossing open was taken “to alleviate the suffering” of residents in the Palestinian enclave, Sisi said on Facebook late on Thursday.
The Rafah crossing is Gaza’s only gateway to the outside world not controlled by Israel, but Egypt has largely sealed it in recent years, citing security threats.