The head of a United Nations Human Rights Council commission to investigate deadly clashes in recent months on the Gaza border has resigned for “personal reasons,” the council said on Wednesday, less than a month after he was appointed.
Vojislav Suc, Slovenian ambassador to the UN in Geneva and president of the council, has accepted US academic David Crane’s resignation and will have the task of appointing a new president of the commission, which also includes lawyers Sara Hossein from Bangladesh and Betty Murungi from Kenya, an official statement said.
Crane, an expert in international law who is currently a professor at Syracuse University, is also a former prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone and worked in the US federal government for over 30 years.
He was appointed on July 25 to investigate the weekly “March of Return” protests on the border that began in March 30.
The clashes, which Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of orchestrating, have included the throwing of rocks and explosives at troops, as well as attempts to breach the border fence and attack Israeli soldiers.
Palestinians in Gaza have also launched incendiary airborne devices toward Israel, burning thousands of acres of forest and farmland resulting in millions of shekels of estimated damages.
At least 171 Gazans have been killed by Israeli fire since the start of the clashes, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. An Israeli soldier was shot to death by a Palestinian sniper. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the Palestinian casualties were members of terror groups.
Additionally, Israel and Hamas have engaged in a number of brief exchanges of fire in recent months that have seen terror groups in Gaza launch hundreds of rockets and mortars toward Israeli territory, including one earlier this month that was the largest flareup in violence since the 2014 war.
While Israel has blasted the UNHRC probe, criticism of Crane himself has been muted, likely owing to his lack of overtly critical statements on the Jewish state compared to past jurists who worked for the council.
Crane in the past had written about Israel.
“Every nation has a right to defend its citizens… but you must launch an attack in a proportional way and can’t cause unnecessary suffering for civilians,” he said in 2006. “Israel tends toward disproportional responses, which just fuel further anger [in the region].”
In 2009, Crane told CBS News that Hamas firing rockets at civilians violates the laws of war.
But, he added, violations on one side do not excuse them on the other. “Even if the other side is not following the laws, you cannot step away from them.”
In determining whether Israeli troops were justified in shelling a building with dozens of civilians, one must find out whether they were aware of the likely civilian casualties, or if they merely knew that “they were being fired upon,” he said.
Contacted by The Times of Israel last month, Crane vowed to enter the investigation “with an open mind with no preconceived positions or perspectives.”
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.