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UN panel against torture flags ‘excessive force’ by Israel

Foreign Ministry rejects report rapping Israeli security forces’ sometimes lethal force against Palestinian demonstrators, attackers

Israeli soldiers and police surround the bodies of two Palestinians who had wounded an Israeli soldier in a knife attack in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 24, 2016. (AFP/Hazem Bader)
Israeli soldiers and police surround the bodies of two Palestinians who had wounded an Israeli soldier in a knife attack in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 24, 2016. (AFP/Hazem Bader)

GENEVA (AP) — A UN panel against torture on Friday expressed concerns about allegations of “excessive use of force,” including deadly force, by Israeli security forces in Palestinian areas, and warned about authorities barring access to detained suspects, including minors.

The Committee Against Torture, which works under the office of the UN human rights chief, released its “concluding observations” about Israel and five other countries — France, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Philippines — as part of regular reviews by the panel.

The panel, which generally conducts reviews of assenting countries every four or five years, does not have investigative or fact-finding powers of its own and relies mostly on information from the media, advocacy groups, UN and other sources in drawing up its findings.

In a 12-page segment on Israel, the committee pointed to “allegations of excessive use of force, including lethal force, by security forces” at demonstrations, in response to attacks or alleged attacks against Israelis and took aim at Israel’s controversial policy of administrative detention, under which it can arrest suspects and hold them without charge for months at a time.

Israel said it “categorically rejects” the report, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon insisting “Israel does not make use of unnecessary force.”

“We face an unprecedented wave of terrorism and we act within the boundaries of Israeli and international law,” Nahshon said.

The committee said 700 people — including 12 minors — were reportedly in administrative detention even as its members were discussing the issue with Israeli officials. Panel co-chair Jens Modvig of Denmark said administrative detentions can last “for months or even years,” with almost no access to those detained.

Israel has defended the system of administrative detention as a necessary tool in preventing Palestinian attacks. Over the past eight months, Israel has faced stepped-up Palestinian assaults — mostly stabbings, shootings or attacks using vehicles to ram into people — on Israeli civilians and security forces.

The rate of the assaults has declined recently but since mid-September, Palestinian attackers have killed 29 Israelis and two Americans. About 200 Palestinians have died during that time, most of whom Israel says were killed as they were carrying out attacks or attempted attacks.

Human rights groups and Palestinians have alleged that Israeli forces have often been quick to pull the trigger, rather than trying to subdue suspects.

Israel says the violence is fueled by a campaign of incitement by Palestinian religious and political leaders compounded on social media sites that glorify and encourage attacks. Palestinian officials say it is the result of despair living under Israeli occupation and frustration over the prospect of ever reaching statehood.

The committee also raised concerns about reports of extrajudicial killings along Turkey’s border with Syria, which is home to many Kurds, and called for an end to flogging and lashing by Saudi Arabian authorities.

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