Middle East

Israel accused at UN over Gaza war casualties

Special rapporteur on Gaza and the West Bank, Makarim Wibisono of Indonesia delivers a speech during the Human RightsCouncil session on March 23, 2015 in Geneva Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Special rapporteur Makarim Wibisono took up his role in June 2014

The scale of civilian deaths in Gaza during the 2014 war with Israel puts Israel's adherence to international law in doubt, a UN official has said.

In his annual report, the special rapporteur also said many children were left traumatised by the 50-day conflict.

Israel and its ally the US were both absent from the debate at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.

Israel has previously accused the body of being biased against it.

It has insisted it did everything possible to avoid causing civilian casualties, and has accused Palestinian militants of putting non-combatants in harm's way.

At the meeting, special rapporteur Makarim Wibisono criticised Israel's conduct during the July-August conflict.

"The ferocity of destruction and high proportion of civilian lives lost in Gaza cast serious doubts over Israel's adherence to international humanitarian law principles of proportionality, distinction and precautions in attack," he told the council.

He lamented "acute" needs in Gaza, warning that Israel's continued "blockade keeps Gaza in a stranglehold which does not even allow people to help themselves".

Israel says its tight restrictions over Gaza's northern and eastern borders and coastline are vital to protect it from attacks by militants.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Parts of Gaza City were destroyed in the conflict last summer

Also under discussion at the session is a report from the UN's secretary general, which highlights the continued building of settlements in the West Bank, and alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians in the area.

About 500,000 Jews live in more than 100 settlements built since Israel's 1967 occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The settlements are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

The report cites alleged incidents of settler violence and access of Palestinians to agricultural land as particular areas of concern.

In Israel, the foreign ministry told Reuters that the UN's annual debate about human rights in Gaza and the West Bank "negatively singles out Israel and Israel every year asks its friends on the council not to express themselves".

Inquiry postponed

The Palestinians and Israel each accuse the other of committing war crimes during the 2014 conflict.

The war left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, the majority civilians, according to the UN. Tens of thousands of homes in Gaza were also destroyed or badly damaged.

On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed by militant attacks, which also caused damage to homes and other buildings. Israel says the offensive was aimed at ending rocket fire and preventing militants attacking it via tunnels.

A UN inquiry into possible war crimes committed during the war was removed from the agenda of the current session of the UNHRC after the head of the team quit amid questions over his suitability to lead the investigation.

Canadian legal expert William Schabas had a "clear and documented bias", Israel said, since he had previously done paid work for the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The inquiry, now headed by former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis, will report back in June, although Israel says it should be disbanded altogether.

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