UN office questions Israeli crackdown on West Bank

UN office questions Israeli crackdown on West Bank

International body's human rights division urges IDF to exercise restraint in search for kidnapped teens

Illustrative photo of IDF soldiers walking on a street in the West Bank city of Hebron, June 19, 2014. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)
Illustrative photo of IDF soldiers walking on a street in the West Bank city of Hebron, June 19, 2014. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

The UN’s human rights office on Friday urged Israel and its adversaries to exercise restraint amid a crackdown on Palestinians during a hunt for three Israeli teenagers missing in the West Bank.

“Clearly these boys need to be found, that’s totally understandable, but the scale of operations and the number of people they are affecting is deeply disturbing,” said its spokesman Rupert Coville.

“We reiterate our call for strict adherence to international law by all relevant actors and join others in their call for restraint,” he told reporters.

The three teenagers were kidnapped on June 12 near an Israeli settlement bloc close to the city of Hebron.

There have been no claims of responsibility, but Israel has accused Hamas of kidnapping them and on Thursday named two Hamas men, who are still at large, as the prime suspects.

The Israeli army has launched a vast search for the abducted teenage trio. Several Palestinians have been killed and dozens wounded so far.

The mothers of the three teenagers travelled to Geneva this week and held a private meeting with deputy UN human rights chief Flavia Pansieri.

“As a mother herself, she expressed her understanding of their deep anxiety about the fate of their sons. We are concerned that the three teenagers have still not been located, after being missing for 15 days. We hope for their immediate safe return,” said Colville.

“Our heartfelt sympathy also goes out to the mothers and loved ones of the six Palestinians, including two teenagers, who have been killed by Israeli forces, in addition to the many others who have been injured, during these past two weeks,” he told reporters. Israel has said the Palestinian fatalities came during confrontations with Israeli troops.

Colville said the loss of life during the operation was alarming, as were the spiking tensions in the West Bank.

“We call for prompt and thorough investigations, and prosecution of the perpetrators in cases where there has been excessive use of force,” he said.

More than 380 Palestinians, two-thirds of them Hamas members, have reportedly been arrested by the army during the search, though Coville put the number at around 500.

Hundreds of homes have also been searched, media offices, universities and welfare organisations raided, at least 13 buildings demolished and water cisterns drained or damaged, Colville said.

“We are also concerned about reports of damage to property and theft during these operations, especially house-to-house searches, and their traumatic effect on children and families,” he added.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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