Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that Israel’s use of lethal force against Palestinian demonstrators in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks may constitute war crimes.
It made the allegation in a statement issued ahead of an emergency UN General Assembly meeting to vote on a resolution condemning Israel’s “excessive use of force.”
A similar Security Council resolution was vetoed earlier this month by the United States. US Ambassador Nikki Haley has said that the proposed text is “fundamentally imbalanced” and “grossly one-sided” for its failure to mention Hamas, and has proposed an amendment that condemns the Palestinian terror group.
In two months of mass protests at the Gaza border, more than 110 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli military fire. Most of the fatalities were members of terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have acknowledged. Israel said its troops were defending the border and accused Hamas of trying to carry out terror attacks under the cover of the protests.
The protests at Israel’s border peaked on May 15, when some 40,000 Gazans protested along the fence and violent clashes took place between troops and Palestinians. The protest came on the same day that the US opened its embassy in Jerusalem.
The Israeli military has insisted its soldiers adhere to the rules of engagement to defend Israeli civilians and security infrastructure from attacks cloaked by the protests.
Human Rights Watch contended in its statement the fact that most of the protesters were not armed. The organization said eyewitnesses recounted that Palestinians were shot from a great distance from the fence, and that others who “had not thrown stones or otherwise tried to harm Israeli soldiers” were shot from a closer range.
Human Rights Watch’s Mideast director called on the international community to “impose real costs for such blatant disregard for Palestinian lives.”
“The UN Human Rights Council inquiry should identify and call for sanctions against officials implicated in ongoing serious human rights violations,” Sarah Leah Whitson said.